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Rubalcaba promises the earth

Por: | 13 de julio de 2011

For someone who used to excel over the short distance of 100 metres, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has a lot of distance to cover in the coming months. Not only must he lead the Socialist Party through a long pre-campaign ahead of general elections to be held either this autumn or in the spring of 2012, he also has to overhaul the Partido Popular’s (PP) double-digit lead in the polls.

Given those circumstances, perhaps it was understandable that on Saturday, at his official unveiling as the party’s candidate, Rubalcaba offered a set of policy guidelines that reached out unashamedly to traditional Socialist voters. The interior minister is so relaxed when addressing a room full of people that he may as well be brushing his teeth, and so it was when he coolly informed Socialist Party members of the direction they must now head in.

There was a crowd-pleasing, albeit non-specific, swipe at banks, as Rubalcaba suggested they re-invest some of their earnings for the greater good: “Soon it will be the moment to ask the cajas and banks to leave part of their profits to the creation of jobs. Because they can, and young people can’t wait.” He also mooted the return of the capital tax that his own Socialist Party had eliminated in the good times. Rubalcaba acknowledged this u-turn, adding that “now the time has come for us to rethink this and bring [the tax] back.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, he opened the door to electoral reform, an area the Socialists have rarely looked interested in overhauling. “We have to listen to what the man in the street tells us,” he said. “When people start thinking that all politicians are all the same, that their vote doesn’t mean anything, then democracy has a problem.” This made abundantly clear the influence the 15-M or indignados protest movement has had on the thinking of the astute Rubalcaba, an influence that became apparent several weeks ago when he took the unusual step of staging Q-and-A sessions with Socialist militants around the country.

Saturday’s speech underlined Rubalcaba’s political nous and his rare ability to get a message across. But whether he’s threatening to punish banks or increase state control of urban development (another proposal he mooted), a major problem with responding so suddenly to the man in the street is the inevitable charge of lack of ideological conviction.

The other problem for Rubalcaba, of course, is Zapatero, who is still prime minister and party leader. The agreement between the two of them is that Zapatero will continue to unroll his deeply unpopular reform program in a bid to keep Spain away from bankruptcy, while Rubalcaba champions the kind of popular, socially oriented policies that the prime minister would like to be able to implement.

Only time will tell whether this two-headed approach can work. For the PP’s Esteban González Pons, the interior minister’s hour-long speech simply showed that Rubalcaba is Zapatero “but without the eyebrows”. That was missing the point: eyebrows or not, this speech could not have been more removed from the Zapatero we have seen over the last couple of years.

In any other circumstances, it would have been a visionary, radical declaration, a speech utterly in tune with the electorate and which sought to save Spain from rampant real estate corruption, a bloated deficit, soaring unemployment and an unbalanced electoral system.

But it’s too late for all that. And given the gap in the polls, Rubalcaba knows he can promise what he likes, because there’s very little chance he will be in a position to implement a single one of these policies.

Guy Hedgecoe is co-editor of Iberosphere, a website that offers analysis and commentary on Spain and Portugal.


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Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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