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Harping on the past

Starting with the prime minister, Spain’s leading politicians are not facing up to the real issue of today

In his 90-minute State of the Nation speech, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did not once pronounce the words "justice" or "eviction." Unemployment, inequality and housing are this country's three main problems. The combination of joblessness and mortgage debt is explosive, leading straight to exclusion and hardship. We are talking about matters that hit people hard, dispelling any idea of justice and equity, which are the basis of civilized, democratic society. Yet they do not form part of the vocabulary of Rajoy. The right to decent housing, written into our Constitution, is a dead letter. The soaring rate of evictions has spurred the biggest protest since the crisis began. Rajoy dismissed the issue with a brusque rejection of being able to cancel a loan by handing the home back to the bank.

Rajoy's sole aim was to raise the morale of his troop, which has three levels. The inner circle are the leaders and members of his party, now somewhat disoriented by the Bárcenas corruption scandal. The bulk of his speech was addressed to them: I'm here for four years, and not about to step down. The second circle is the faithful voters, who do not yet feel the urge to change, not knowing where else to go. The prime minister's use of the past tense, as if the worst of the crisis were over -- overlooking the six million unemployed he mentioned at the start -- was aimed at kindling some spark of hope in them. Hence, too, the harking back to the golden days of the PP. The third circle, the voters irritated by the broken electoral promises, were of no concern to him. If things improve, they will return. The rest of the citizens do not even enter his field of vision. A field conditioned by the rear-view mirror: Rajoy bases his moral authority on the Spanish right's lost Arcadia of 2000 and the disastrous legacy of Zapatero. Harping on the past.

PP and PSOE have a common interest: the defense of the two-party regime in which for decades they have taken turns at the wheel

He likes to look back because his future depends on what Bárcenas knows and may reveal. If one day it is demonstrated, for example, that the prime minister took money under the counter, he will have to go home. When a politico is losing the sense of reality, one of the symptoms is a childish glee over his own verbal fancies. Rajoy delights in the game of never mentioning the name of Bárcenas. Yet this name will dog him until the matter is cleared up. His promise to serve out the legislature hangs simply on this thread. Since the monarchy is dangling from a similar thread, the country's institutional stability looks precarious. But Rajoy talks tough, because our main opposition party is also trapped in the past. Rubalcaba is a Socialist veteran, laden with the baggage of too many old campaigns. With his long history at the service of the party, he lacks credibility as a propelling force of the change the country needs.

PP and PSOE have a common interest: the defense of the two-party regime in which for decades they have taken turns at the wheel, and which is now making clunking noises that were particularly loud in the debate. The public wants signs of change, and the parties gave them the same old thing. Rajoy, in free fall in the opinion polls, relies on Merkel and the EU, not the public to validate his policies (democracy in reverse). And Rubalcaba, in a yet weaker position, keeps looking over his shoulder in fear of his party's left wing.

All this, seasoned with the haughty disdain familiar in a prime minister who is an excellent parliamentary orator, but incapable of conveying any empathy with the average citizen. Three months after the Catalan elections, he has not yet deigned to offer any political proposal to Catalonia. The contempt with which he answered the tame Duran Lleida ("don't deny the Catalans the right to be Spanish and European," said Rajoy) was eloquent. The country changes, the system remains.

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