At a dinner in Madrid earlier this month, the main complaint about Mariano Rajoy was that the new prime minister was treating the electorate like children. Many of the guests, supporters of Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP), understood that Spain had to cut its fiscal deficit and restore its competitiveness. But they didn’t like the fact that the prime minister hadn’t been frank about his plans.
In advance of last November’s general election, Rajoy said he wouldn’t raise taxes, make it cheaper to fire people or cut the welfare state. But he has now done the first two. After this week’s election in Andalusia, Spain’s largest region, he is expected to do the last.
Rajoy’s camp doesn’t see any problem in failing to be upfront. It would have been foolish to talk too much about austerity in the general election campaign as that might have frightened the voters. For the same reason, it would be foolish to tell them about reforming the welfare state in advance of the Andalusia election.
In the long run, the failure to treat the population like adults could cause trouble. But in the short run, the strategy has paid off. The socialist party lost nearly 40 percent of its votes in the general election, not least because it had done a poor job in government. It is now expected to lose control of Andalusia, its last main bastion, according to an opinion poll by Metroscopia.
Rajoy has already used the absence of any serious opposition – even a general strike called for next week doesn’t pose much threat – to push through one batch of reforms. The most important is of the labour market. He has made it cheaper for companies to fire people and largely dismantled the nationwide system of collective bargaining. The net effect will be that wages, which rose rapidly during the early years of the single currency, will fall – so restoring Spain’s competitiveness.