Thursday, May 29, 2014

In With The New: PSOE

So, farewell, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. You always seemed like a pleasant enough chap. A benign uncle with a hint of the oppressed hidden in your Gulag facial growth. But none of this helped in your turning around your party. As you said of the Euro elections, "the results are bad".

He should have gone after losing the election in 2011. But Spain's political parties can tolerate losers. Perhaps he had hoped that he might emulate Rajoy. A two-time loser but third time lucky, maybe only tolerated because he knew where the bodies were buried. One day they might be exhumed.

PSOE were given such an almighty great kicking in 2011 that a fresh start was demanded. The party flunked it. Faith was retained in Zapatero's faithful old retainer at a time when the party's face needed a clean shave and some reinvigorating moisturiser to rid it of its beardy socialism image. It could have done with a female face. It might now get one.

It's not as if the left in Spain is going mainly down the drain. The Euros proved as much. But PSOE's leftness had been centred and obscured by a Blairite chameleon form that it had adopted. No one quite knows what it stands for or where it is going. At least with Rajoy you know what the PP stands for, even if you might prefer it to sit down or curl up in a corner and put itself to sleep.

The strong performance of the left does, however, have to be placed in some context. Spaniards are good voters when it comes to their own elections. They turn up. Electoral abstemiousness of a Euro kind will be replaced by polling bingeing. The left will probably still perform well but the astonishing success of Podemos is most unlikely to carry through to the national or indeed regional elections. The right-wing press is already sharpening its knives and hunting for the hatchets. Sr. Iglesias will find his ponytail chopped off in his prime moment of seeking to influence prime ministerial selection.

The left vote is fragmented. PSOE have to know where they are amidst the pieces of this fractured jigsaw. Left, centre, right. Where exactly? They need new ideas but above all they need a new image. Austerity may have been the order of the day and the order of Brussels - one with which PSOE would have had to conform - but if there was to have been austerity, far better if it had been delivered to a suffering Spaniard as the fait accompli it was always going to have been by a face less austere than Rubalcaba's or indeed Rajoy's. Brighten up, PSOE; brighten up, Spain.

PSOE's performance at the Euro elections was nothing short of disastrous. The 23% of the vote it achieved was the lowest it had ever attained. The leader of its Euro campaign, Elena Valenciano, recognised that it was very bad. There are only degrees of badness with which PSOE can take any solace. Rubalcaba thought the results were merely bad. The very bad of Sra. Valenciano surely rules her out of the running as a successor to Rubalcaba. No more losers, PSOE. And consequently, perhaps, no Carme Chacón, who lost out to Rubalcaba in the race to succeed Zapatero. At least she has said that there is a need for PSOE to change. Indeed, but change into what?

It may change into an Andalusian model of PSOE socialism, that of the Andalusian president Susana Díaz. Some reports suggest that she is already nailed on, though she has suggested that she will continue in Andalusia. There again, declarations of brazen ambition at times of party mourning might not go down well in PR terms.

If not Sra. Díaz, then possibly Eduardo Madina, PSOE's secretary-general in Congress. I have previously played up his prospects, though a correspondent of mine has taken issue with me. He would be a Zapatero Mark II. Would the party want another Bambi or Bean? Possibly not.

There has been an inevitability that PSOE would find itself needing to find someone to lead it into the next elections in 2015. I had forecast that Rubalcaba would have been gone, and now he has, albeit he will limp on, dead man walking, in aiming weak blows to the PP body in Congress until a PSOE phoenix rises from the ashes of another electoral conflagration.

The inevitability was partly because of the failure to grasp the nettle at the end of 2011. It has also been because the electorate is fed up with a two-party system that stubbornly refuses to make itself transparent and accountable. The PP has to look at itself, too. The Euro elections were nothing to do with Europe. They were to do with Spain. Podemos may get scattered to the winds by the time of the national election, but there are other parties. New image time, PSOE.

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