The leader of the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, issued a rallying cry in his closing address at the party’s political conference held in Madrid over the weekend. “We are not the same!” he said in reference to the governing Popular Party, and if in straying from its left-of-center political habitat in recent years the Socialists had given the impression that they were, that assumption will end as of now because “the PSOE is back.”
In an impassioned speech, Rubalcaba said that his party will base its regeneration on presenting an alternative to Spain’s “insensitive government” and “rebuilding everything that the right is destroying. [The PP] is gambling with the welfare state.”
What the Socialist leader, who arrived at Madrid’s Palacio de Congresos flanked by the party’s two former prime ministers, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Felipe González, did not give any clue to is whether he will be at the head of the new PSOE. In an interview with EL PAÍS published on Sunday, Rubalcaba explained that the most important thing is to hold open primaries so that the party’s rank-and-file and sympathizers can elect a candidate to contest the next general election, and not to get bogged down in when this ground-breaking process will take place. “We will do it before the PP, in any case,” he said ironically.
It is expected that the matter will be discussed at a federal committee meeting in December or January, with former Defense Minister Carme Chacón and onetime Basque regional premier Patxi López potential frontrunners. Chacón said recently that her narrow loss to Rubalcaba in the 2012 leadership contest was a choice of “continuity instead of change.” But the PSOE leader countered that since then the party has embarked upon a “radical reform program,” that includes new fiscal proposals “so that those that really have the means to pay do so.” Another proposal is to scrap income tax for the unemployed and low-paid.
People are defending what we set in motion. We have to be there to tell them we are not the same as the PP"
Rubalcaba also told the audience that the PSOE needs to demonstrate its solidarity with the Spanish people at street level. “We have to be there [at marches and protests]. We have to be with them. These people are defending what we set in motion. We have to be there to tell them we are not the same [as the PP]. We have to be there, without self-satisfaction but with pride. We are not the same!” he roared at the assembly, which rose to its feet.
The PSOE leader also assured citizens that the opposition would be very clear on “what we will fight for and which causes we will stand by; with what we are in agreement with and what we are not.”
Among these was a promise to “denounce the concordat with the Holy See,” a state treaty with the Vatican guaranteeing the Catholic religion’s pre-eminence in matters such as state financing and religious teaching in schools. “We will denounce it in opposition, and when we are in government we will revoke it.”
Announcing the approval of a text laying out the PSOE’s manifesto for Spain, Rubalcaba stressed it was not an electoral program but “broad strokes” of the Socialists’ plans for the coming years.
One of the least expected moments came when Rubalcaba spoke openly about Catalonia’s independence drive under the nationalist CiU coalition of Artur Mas: “Unity and diversity. The two form part of our history and we have to rebuild territorial relations. We want to continue to live side-by-side, with mutual respect and affection.” Turning to the leader of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Pere Navarro, whose grouping has voted against the PSOE line on the subject of a referendum, a move which sparked a call from some sectors of the national party to break with the PSC, Rubalcaba said: “We will do it with you, Pere. We will do it together.” The auditorium afforded Navarro a standing ovation.
“We will leave [the conference] strong, united, and with clear ideas,” Rubalcaba said at the close of his address. “The PSOE is back!”