The most exciting thing about oposition leader Mariano Rajoy’s interview today in El País was the headline: “Cameron’s plan inspires confidence, I would do something similar in Spain”. After months of voters left wondering at what Spain’s opposition party would do once in power, I thought the newspaper this morning would be offering an answer. But not really.
Interviewer Javier Moreno is certainly no fan of the Popular Party (PP), led by Mr. Rajoy – or of the conservative Cameron, for that matter. After painting a bleak picture of Mr. Cameron’s aggressive reforms, he goes on to accuse the PP of “poisoning” Spanish politics. But for all his lack of objectivity, he takes Mr. Rajoy on rather well. Not that the job is too difficult. Opening the interview, he asks if Rajoy knows and shares David Cameron’s plan in the UK. Rajoy responds affirmatively, and Moreno goes on to ask him what exactly is it that he shares from the plan. Unfortunately, the opposition party leader is unable to offer anything up. No, he would not cut public sector jobs, nor would he cut back on Spain’s generous financial assistance to the unemployed, nor anything else.
Rajoy speaks of cutting the deficit, but can only mention a few, minor areas where he would actually cut back public spending. Certainly, not enough to justify the tax cuts he is also promising. All his intentions still seem unclear after the interview, reinforcing the idea that his party is simply waiting for the elections to come up and capitalize on the current government’s deserved unpopularity. The less said until then, the less chances of antagonizing any group of voters.
Outside of the economy, Rajoy appears more firm. His party opposes the extremely liberal new abortion laws the government has recently enacted, and also same-sex marriage law passed in 2005. The PP is also suspicious of recent news that the government is trying to re-open talks with the Basque terrorist group ETA, after their failed attempts in 2006, which ended a few days after President Zapatero said that he was confident that peace was near – with a bomb in Madrid’s Barajas airport, resulting in two dead. Rajoy does have credibility in this area, as his stint as Minister of Interior resulted in one of the most successful runs in anti-terrorist policy ever seen in Spain.
The feeling is that the PP is confident that the Socialist government’s handling of the economy will continue to be inadequate, and that any efforts to negotiate peace with ETA will result in Spaniards being furious over any kind of concession to an organization which has been put on the brink of disappearance thanks exclusively to police work. While there is little doubt in my mind that both of these hypotheses will turn out to be true, it is important that Rajoy starts putting his cards on the table, or he will look as weak in debates as he looked in today’s interview.