Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guy Standing on the voice of the emerging precariat.

No time to blog today. But I highly reccomend you read this piece from CiF, it is very interesting, and Guy Standing hits the nail on the head when it comes to the failings of the left in western Europe to renew itself (with a particular distaste for the Blue Labour Mouvement which Milliband seems to such a fan of) beyond looking to the past.

 A new progressive agenda, like all those throughout history, must be class-based, however it is packaged. It must look forward, not be atavistic. It must be egalitarian at its core and respond to the emerging class. The faddish "Blue Labour" openly looks back and rejects all this. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Luke Stobart on Rubalcaba

I wonder to myself, could life ever be sane again?

Great article on Comment is Free today by Luke Stobard. It offers an insight into the more authoritarian side to Rubalcaba, which is inevitable should you become Home Secretary, but nevertheless holds true with his handling of the airport strikes and so on.

The last lines of the article were particularly spot on:
If Rubalcaba does take over, it is hard to imagine a new convergence between government and the street. Instead, the political crisis of recent weeks may just be the beginning.
 It is not so much that Rubalcaba would break up the acampadas, after all the violence in Barcelona and Lleida, was done by the devolved Government of Catalonia (you can find a petition here for the resignation of the Catalan interior minister, Felip Puig). It is more to do with the fact that Rubalcaba is more of the same. He after all is the most powerful man in the current Government, which means that his Government would be no different from the actual one.

There is no hope for a renewal of the left, and thus there is no hope for the integration of the acampadas's demands into a current mainstream political party, which as Stobard rightly says can only make things worse.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The PSOE's regression to the womb

Rubalcaba and Chacón

On Thursday Carme Chacón, the Spanish Defence Minister, stepped out in front of the cameras and announced that she would not contest the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party  (PSOE) in the run up to the primaries to replace the incumbent Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. She looked tired, on the verge of tears, as she admitted that she "had put the unity of the party in peril, as well as the stability of the Government" and for this reason she had decided to pull out, leaving the field open for Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (Home Secretary, Vice-President of the Government and Government Spokesperson) a relic from the Felipe González Socialist Government of the 90s, to become the PSOE candidate for the 2012 elections.


Yesterday the barons of the PSOE, that is to say regional leaders and mayors of major cities, met in a conference with Zapatero and decided unanimously to back Rubalcaba. Indeed José Blanco, vice-secretary general of the PSOE and current Minister for Development, could barely contain his glee as he announced the decision by the barons to back Rubal (as he is more affectionately known). It is widely expected that today Rubalcaba will announce his candidacy to the Federal Comity of the PSOE. It is widely acknowledged that he will go uncontested. A huge sigh of relief for the PSOE which is reeling from last week's disastrous performance in the municipal elections, facing a bellicose opposition calling for an early election, suffering from depressingly low poll ratings, a truly dire economic situation and eye-grabbing street protests. The very fabric of the party is disintegrating and there is a feeling among many in its upper echelons that even a slight tug could unravel everything. Their priorities for Government are: unity, unity, unity.


Such was the fear that the party should appear divided that there was a thinly-veiled campaign within the PSOE to discredit or hide Chacón, the only likely contender to be able to mount a serious challenge. For example in an act, comparable to being airbrushed out of a Communist Party photo, Chacón was pushed out of her normal seat next to the Vice-President during the speech on April 2nd in which Zapatero announced his resignation, to leave just Rubalcaba as the only recognisable face by the Prime Minister's side. These hints and tricks did not work to dissuade Chacón from running, and on Thursday things came to a head as she was called in and dealt with. One can imagine the story being leaked to the media by Malcolm Tucker type and the press conference organised, as he calls for the oblivious Defence Minister to come to his office.


Zapatero, described once by Slavoj Žižek as the most left wing head of Government in the world has left the party with nothing progressive to its name. Not only has it had to succumb to the pressure of international finance and the Paris-Berlin Axis and impose decidedly regressive economic policies (basically the equivalent of an IMF wet dream), but it has given up on modernity. By choosing Rubalcaba, an old-hat party elder and a decidedly pre-Zapatero figure, and shunning Chacón, a young Catalan woman, we are a world away from the ethic behind forming the first majority-female government. This is further confirmed by lack of proper primaries within the PSOE which shows not only its disdain for the democratic process, but also its fear of it.

The photo of Chacón pointing her finger angrily at one of the Generals (click here) was a particularly powerful image of a new Spain, one which broke with tradition, one which could challenge the old order and even boss it around. Zapatero wanted to mould a Spain in which differences could thrive and to eradicate intolerance, and he did this by challenging the Spanish people and pushing harder and harder against the strong conservative elements in Spanish society. Now, as the PSOE clings to Rubalcaba like a panicked child with his security blanket, this has been completely forgotten.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The PP: turning a lighter shade of blue

Albiol on the campaign trail in Badalona
A canopy of sky blue flags being waved, a very pleased looking mayoral candidate, another dot of blue on the electoral map... this was a fairly common scene two days ago in Spain. Where the right-wing People's Party (PP) are the clear winners, against the beleaguered incumbent socialists (PSOE). But this scene of which I am talking was not taking place in what you would call a traditional Spanish heartland, this isn't even what some here would call Spain. We are in Badalona, third city of Catalonia and traditional territory of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) which two days ago saw the PP, an openly anti-Catalan party, gain a plurality of seats and thus giving, its candidate, Xavier Albiol the legitimacy to go on and become mayor of Badalona. 

Albiol did this by waging a particularly nasty campaign, ramping up xenophobic discourse with slogans such as "Mano dura contra los que no se adaptan" (A hard hand against those who do not adapt) and "muchos lo piensan, yo lo digo" (a lot think it, I say it) and a flurry of speeches in which he talked extensively on subjects such as pestilence brought by illegal immigrants and minarets. A political narrative which would even make even the most ardent of Republicans blush. This, despite being in a municipality with lower immigration than average, seemed to be working as the PP edged up the polls, and the PP headquarters in Barcelona and Madrid were watching intently, some in disbelief, to see what would happen. Badalona, the political laboratory for right-wing electioneering has been successful. Very tellingly Sanchez-Camacho, the leader of the PP in Catalonia, ran to see Albiol as soon as the results came in, abandoning her candidate in Barcelona who also performed very well.
This successful trial-run, infected other campaigns in Catalonia, most notably the mayoral race in Barcelona, where the candidate Alberto Fernandez in the last days of the campaign centered his speeches on issues of immigration and crime (often overlapping). 


Though the PP have been making inroads in Catalonia for a while now and Albiol is not an unknown, the scale of victory is undeniable and a great surprise to many. This tactic, now a proven hit, will most likely be used ahead of the legislative elections next year. Since some within the party fear that the lead of the PP over the PSOE could be soft and are worried about the dampening effect of Mariano Rajoy, the head of the party, who suffers from a lack of charisma and has already lost the party two elections. It would also centre the campaign on issues which the PP can distinguish itself from its socialist rival since in terms of economic policy (the main theme of the last general election) the fiscal straitjacket imposed on Spain makes this a policy subject on which in reality they are not able to disagree on (though they may try).

However there are two main problems with this tactic. The first Albiol is finding out now as he tries to work out a majority in the municipality. Because of his extreme views and unpalatable agenda he has come up against a lot of resistance and there is talk of a centrist alliance to form a governing majority and thus block his legitimate place as mayor of Badalona (that or block his programme). This incapacity to form alliances could be very harmful to the PP. With the dislocation of certain regional politics from the national trends (think Basque Country and Catalonia), or what the PP scathingly refers to as the balkanisation of Spain, it is now very difficult for either of the two main national parties get a majority. Thus coalitions are inevitable, on pretty much every level of government and the Badalona experiment has proven to not be conducive to the consensus politics necessary for such an outcome.  
The second is more of a long term problem. It is to do with centrifugal forces in Spanish political discourse. Let's say the PP manages to get an absolute majority next year or manages to beat out an acceptable coalition, they will have opened Pandora's box. Issues such as race, immigration, security become acceptable talking points and outrageous, frankly racist, claims become commonplace. This legitimises far-right parties and their discourse, and increases the chance that they will pick up votes, next time round, should the PP not deliver (something Sarkozy is finding out now).   


There was something even more worrying than the events in Badalona two nights ago, Plataforma Por Catalunya (the equivalent to the BNP in the UK or the NF in France, also known as PxC) crept into many important municipalities (Santa Coloma de Gramenet, St Boi de Llobregat and Mataró to name but a few) and further strengthened its hold on Vic. They went from 17 representatives in municipal government to 67. Their blue logo, a pastel blue to the PP's sky blue, sneaked into the corners of many Camembert charts as the evening progressed. I'm inclined to believe that this is not mere correlation and that the PP's capitalisation on economic misery by scapegoating immigrant populations has contributed to this. Interestingly enough the PxC did not win any seats in Badalona. 

Let us hope the PP does not go a paler shade of blue in search of a presidential majority because the consequences could be beyond the pale.