Warring parties in Spain

Mariano Rajoy’s insistence his polices have achieved stability “without damaging our social fabric” is received with stupefied anger by the opposition


The annual State of the Nation debate in Spain, which concluded yesterday, is usually a robust affair. And the claims made, especially by the prime minister of the day, often have a tenuous relationship to the facts of Spanish life. Even by these standards, however, the language this week was unusually incontinent, and the claims fantastical. The Spain described by the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Partido Popular (PP), is better off in every way than the country he inherited from the Socialist Party (PSOE) four years ago, when national insolvency and a bailout more Greek than Irish seemed inevitable. In the last such debate before general elections, he painted a picture of his tenure that many Spaniards cannot recognise.

In terms of balance sheets, and the conventional wisdom from Brussels, he has indeed at least avoided disaster. The Spanish economy is growing, and government bonds are no longer under daily attacks from international speculators. But this is little comfort to the thousands of Spanish families who have been evicted from their homes for mortgage defaults, or to a young generation that has only known 50 per cent unemployment.

Rajoy’s insistence on Wednesday that his polices had achieved stability “without damaging our social fabric” was received with stupefied anger by the entire opposition; especially by Podemos, the year-old radical party that polls suggest could shake Spain’s two-party establishment to its foundations, but still lacks a single deputy. The new leader of the PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, appeared to steal Podemos’s clothes with a blistering response. He accused Rajoy of “lying and fantasising”, of “using the crisis to dismantle the welfare state”, of being “shameless” and “destructive”. But when he attacked Rajoy for the corruption scandals in which the PP is mired, the prime minister was able to remind him that PSOE leaders are also facing serious charges of abuse of power.

Inadvertently, both leaders had echoed Podemos’ rallying cry: that the old parties are part of Spain’s problem, and should be swept aside at the next election.