Spanish lessons

30th November, 2011 2:15 pm

The problems affecting Spain will be familiar to regular readers of LabourList.  It would seem, sadly, that the solutions will be rather well rehearsed too – a prolonged economic contraction and an austerity package that will unpick some of the progressive achievements of seven years of centre-left rule.

On Sunday 20th November, Spain’s voters delivered their verdict on the ruling PSOE party, and it was not a pretty sight.  The PSOE’s worst result since the introduction of democracy and a solid majority for the right-wing PP party.  Mariano Rajoy has performed a remarkable comeback for somebody who was unceremoniously rejected as PM in the wake of the 2004 Madrid train attacks.

Yet to read the result as a vote for the PP only shows part of the picture.  The old aphorism that “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them” holds true again.  The economy has understandably been at the core of the campaign, and with unemployment rising, bond yields nudging closer to the psychologically dreaded 7%, and perhaps most damningly people wanting change.  This is best perhaps summed up by the quote from a local barman as the results rolled in:

“People voted for change, but exactly what kind of change they don’t really know yet”. 

The context behind this result makes for grim reading.  Unemployment (higher than other so-called PIGS countries) stands at over five million – some 20% of the workforce is unemployed.  Among young people that figure rises to nearly one in two.  We talk of a lost generation, but the reality is that things there are orders of magnitude worse.  Zapatero (Labour members will remember him from Brighton’s 2009 Conference) who tried to stave off recession with a €50bn stimulus programme, has perhaps long known the writing was on the wall.

If the economic crisis has its roots in international events, the domestic ramifications will spare no national leader the wrath of their people.  It is not for nothing that the indignados of the 15-M movement “The movement of the outraged” grew to such an impressive size.  Inspired by the Greek protests, 15-M was motivated by a sense that austerity is preached by those who bear no mandate, as a remedy to those who bear no guilt.  Citizens are angry at what they see as the suborning of their interests to unaccountable and distant forces.

Rajoy has been patient for his moment; in 2004 he was the anointed successor to Aznar’s grubby government before an election the PP were expected to win.  Among others, Rajoy and Aznar sought to blame ETA for the Madrid train attacks (in reality it was Al-Qaeda) to shore up their vote before polling day.  Spanish people saw this for the highly cynical trick it was and duly voted the PP out.  Rajoy is still deeply conservative, highly antagonistic to women’s rights, the environment and Spain’s diverse regional identities.

Spain’s putatitve next PM is already planning for “shock therapy” to cure the ailing Spanish economy. Spain’s winter will indeed be long.  Those who have read Naomi Klein’s thoughtful work on the politics of economic experiments will recognise the scenario.  Spain must remain vigilant, for the lesson from the UK is to beware the paradox of thrift.  Shock therapy risks plunging Spain deeper into crisis, where it cannot support its debt and defaults.  Spain is considered “too big to bailout” and a default there could well lead to the collapse of the Eurozone.

The irony of a collapse in these circumstances will be clear to students of European history.  A continent that sought to bind itself closer together to avoid the factionalism that had dogged its early period once again feels the pinch of self-interest.  The European collective spirit of the 80s and 90s has given way to a rash and narrow individualism that threatens the fragile solidarity we’ve been bequeathed.  Britain has reached a nadir now where public opinion has been pandered to so much that discussion on the merits of Europe is rendered impossible.

During the election period, while the PP enjoined voters to “Súmate al cambio” (sign up to change) the PSOE urged people to “Pelea por lo que quiere” and fight for what you believe in.

And as we all know, it’s the fighters and believers who really change our world…

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