Socialists seek to forge new image at key party conference

This weekend’s meeting will be overshadowed by primaries debate

A party in power until two years ago, that then crashed and burned in the general election and has since failed to made headway in the opinion polls is undertaking a three-day marathon of debate to rethink itself in the hope that by Monday the mirror will reflect a different image.

National leaders, regional branches and the 200,000 card-carrying members of the Socialist Party trust that its policy conference, which began Friday, will be a turning point for the embattled opposition group.

The Socialists have promised a “radical overhaul” of their program, to be developed “in the coming decade.” Meanwhile, another simmering issue could easily take center stage during the meeting: party leadership and its expression through primaries.

The agenda includes new proposals such as in-depth reform of the tax system in order to increase the state’s revenues. While this item originally considered creating new taxes and expanding taxable income, at the last minute the party announced a plan to eliminate income tax altogether for low-earning pensioners, the jobless, and working parents whose net annual earnings are under 16,000 euros.

Socialists promise “more red, more purple [feminist] and more green” party

In another headline-grabbing announcement, the Socialists are promising that under their administration no citizen will go without basic utilities — gas, electricity and water — for lack of money, at least not between November 1 and March 31 of each year. “We want to guarantee it by law,” said the party’s deputy secretary general, Elena Valenciano, at the opening of the conference.

Another item on the agenda is constitutional reform, although this could never be effected without support from the ruling Popular Party.

The team behind party secretary general Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who headed the losing ticket at the November 2011 elections, insists this is not just a facelift.

“We want to convince people that this is a brave and radical change,” said one member of the party executive. “The fiscal reform, for instance, is the one we should have always done but never did.”

Former Basque premier Patxi López, who could be a candidate in future party primaries, said the conference would be like “a new Suresnes,” in reference to the 1974 congress that elected Felipe González party leader and broke ideologically with the Socialist Party of the postwar.

Carme Chacón, who ran unsuccessfully against Rubalcaba to lead the party after the 2011 election, was coy about her plans when she returns from the US a year from now. “If my colleagues ask me to lead a project for renovation and change again, I will do so,” she said.

But the most noncommittal answer came from Rubalcaba himself, who refuses to reveal if he will run again. “Citizens don’t ask me about the primaries, they ask how we’re going to solve their problems,” he said with some exasperation in statements to the Spanish Huffington Post website.

Meanwhile his deputy, Elena Valenciano, told the TV network Tele5 that the party congress will yield a Socialist Party that is “more red, more purple [feminist] and more green.”

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