The PP’s reconquest

A turn to the right with Aznar and Rivera in the background. That would be the title of the canvas that the PP’s party conference painted yesterday when 58 per cent of the delegates elected Pablo Casado as their new party leader and candidate in the next Spanish elections. The shadow of José Maria Aznar [a hardliner] loomed over the conference and the former Spanish PM seized Mariano Rajoy’s legacy by inflicting a heavy defeat on Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Rajoy’s former deputy and also-ran. Sáenz de Santamaría’s hard-working disposition and sharply-honed intellect —as expected in any public prosecutor— are widely acknowledged in her party, but her profile is not suited to these times of Spain’s reconquest. Rajoy’s right-hand woman is not the real McCoy, as far as the PP’s apparatchiks are concerned: they believe she compromises on her principles and she has been accused of lacking an ideology. Soraya’s discourse is technocratic, authoritarian and self-centred. She strives to emphasise the way she pronounces the “ñ” in “España” and the unity of the Spanish homeland, while claiming that her own views “are the same as the PP’s”. But her opponent, Pablo Casado, is the perfect poster boy of Spain’s hardline conservatism, now that Ciudadanos and Vox are threatening to occupy the PP’s political space. In short, the PP’s delegates have elected an Albert Rivera of their own: a young, unencumbered leader who feels right at home when discussing a tougher criminal code, amending Spain’s electoral law to rein in the peripheral political parties, the preservation of Spain’s single market as a homogenising instrument and the preponderance of Spanish over any other language. Casado’s PP is more right-wing than liberal and it likes to talk about family, God, motherland and King. As a matter of fact, the first words in Casado’s acceptance speech, which won him a long round of applause, were to voice his allegiance to King Felipe.

Casado’s election as the PP’s new leader is bad news for Albert Rivera, the Ciudadanos candidate, who has been losing steam since Rajoy was removed from office following a no-confidence vote. In contrast, it it good news for PM Pedro Sánchez. The PP and Ciudadanos share the same political birthplace and Rivera’s hitherto advantage —being the only photogenic heir to the throne of Spain’s uncompromising right— has now vanished. In time we might see a convergence of the two political parties, as José María Aznar has argued for on occasion. But that won’t happen until we have witnessed a fierce election clash between the real thing [the PP] and the knock-off [Ciudadanos]. In contrast, the PP’s shift to the right provides the PSOE with some strategic breathing space and oxygen to grow in the electoral centre, both in economic and political terms.

Casado announced the reconquest of the Spanish homeland starting with Catalonia, of course. He mentioned Badalona, Castelldefels and Tarragona [unionist strongholds], encouraging everyone to follow their lead in Barcelona and across Catalonia. This is further proof that, as far as the PP is concerned, Catalonia has always been the glue that holds together their stale, unitarian, homogenous idea of Spain. It proves that the Partido Popular intends to double up on its efforts to split Catalan society and crack down on independence supporters.

Joaquín Costa, a Spanish intellectual who called for the country’s regeneration at the end of the 19th century, used to advocate industrialisation, building dams and “sealing the tomb of El Cid” [a myth of Spanish nationalism] “with seven padlocks”. On Saturday, though, the Spanish right chose to invoke El Cid once again. The PP’s party conference has not brought us new ideas, merely new faces. Rather, it is a return to Alianza Popular (1) or Aznar’s PP. The notion that Spain’s political transition —following General Franco’s death— was an anomaly has triumphed on the right. They believe that preserving a genuine Spain requires stamping out all regional differences in their stale State.

From the PDECat to the Crida

The PP’s shift to the right will also have an effect on Catalonia’s political map. For starters, yesterday PDECat leader Marta Pascal caved in to mounting pressure from her party’s critics and stepped down, thus paving the way for a profound change that will lead to the PDECat’s dissolving into Carles Puigdemont’s Crida in the mid-term. The former Catalan president, who can travel around Europe a free man thanks to a German court, is working to build a broad-based movement that will reach beyond the ideological boundaries inherited from the now-defunct Convergència Democràtica. The latest discrepancies between Pascal and Puigdemont affected the position of the PDECat’s representatives in the Spanish parliament and their support to Pedro Sánchez’s vote of no-confidence against Mariano Rajoy. Yesterday Pascal openly admitted that she did not have Puigdemont’s blessing to continue leading the PDECat and, two years after the party was founded, she was removed by those who supported her at first plus the ones she defeated as a representative of the moderate liberal right.

The conference manifesto encourages the PDECat’s members to join Puigdemont’s Crida, includes a mandate to set up a steering group with Lluís Puig and the political prisoners to transition towards Puigdemont’s new project and enshrines a new leadership that is loyal to the former president, with MP Míriam Nogueras as a key figure from the party’s critics.

The aftermath of the battle shows that a new scenario is emerging and political positions are being redefined. The PP has shifted further to the right and is now engaging the far right parties. The PDECat is dissolving into a movement led from Brussels and a prison cell, with the blessing of Catalan president Quim Torra, who will need to roll up his sleeves if he wants to be more than just Convergència’s heir.

Translator’s note:

(1) Spain’s Partido Popular was founded in 1989 and it succeeded Alianza Popular as the country’s conservative party.

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