What happens in Spain, won’t stay in Spain

If Partido Popular fail to maintain social order, economic order, or both, what happens in Spain will not stay in Spain and the death throes of the Western economy may be heard first on the Iberian Peninsula

One of many signs of Spain's social unrest
Benjamin Harris-Quinney
On 6 December 2011 11:33

The victory of the Partido Popular in the November 20 Spanish general elections is good news for Spain, good news for Europe and good news for the UK...in theory.

The Spanish economy needs emergency attention from responsible government and the significant majority the Paritdo Popular secured to govern without coalition - relatively unusual in Spain - is an advantage, but not as great a mandate from the Spanish populus as it may seem.

The PSOE were forced to enact austerity measures from April 2011, and the resulting protests in Madrid’s Sol square and across the nation have continued since. The PSOE lost the significant socialist and far left vote in Spain, and as a result they suffered a landslide defeat (losing 15 percent of their 2008 votes). But most of the PSOE’s lost votes did not go to the Partido Popular.

Not only was the turnout significantly down on the last election, (by four percent on the 2008 GE, ten percent on the 2004 GE), but voting for small and regional parties was up by nine percent.

With high youth unemployment and widespread protests against austerity measures already evident, Spain is a tinderbox of social unrest ready to ignite, and its regional divisions in the event of such unrest will make it incredibly difficult to police and govern if social order breaks down.

The markets in Spain and Europe were slightly calmed by the result of the election, but Spain’s ability to maintain and reduce borrowing rates will rely on the implementation of significant austerity measures, the like of which are unlikely to pass without further widespread protest.

The Arab Spring and the London riots clearly demonstrate that in the right environment of discord and unrest, riots can spread to the point of lawlessness, and unrestrained, to the point of state collapse.

The prominent Conservative economist Andrew Lilico takes the view that from an economic perspective, the UK government should be cutting taxes and spending quicker and deeper, but such a decision would lead to significant social unrest and potentially lawlessness, and is therefore politically and socially unsound.

The Spanish government will have to cut deeper and faster than any other democratically elected government in Europe, and very quickly the Partido Popular will face accusations of cruelty, totalitarianism and fascism, that have wrongly haunted Spanish Conservatism since Franco.

Unlike Greece, and Italy, the bailout ship may have also have sailed; certainly eurozone bailouts will not be delivered even with the conditions that were given to the Greeks and Italians. The Partido Popular therefore don’t have the luxury of making decisions for political purposes, they simply have no choice but to be the slaves of economic order.

The new Spanish government will need political support quickly, and in presiding over an economy in crisis without eurozone support, whilst still maintaining market confidence and dealing with unrest, Cameron is the best person to deliver it.

Though many will greet the idea with derision, as they did with Ireland, the UK may even be the best nation to offer Spain some limited financial assistance. One million Britons currently reside in Spain, and many more are invested in the Spanish economy; most of them have been significantly exposed to the crisis, and the collapse of the housing market.

It would be wise for David Cameron to schedule another Spanish break, but perhaps this time with a stopover in Madrid. He will pick up friends quickly and support a government in dire need of el corte ingles (the English cut), which fittingly is the name for Spain’s most famous store.

If the Partido Popular fail, either to maintain social order, economic order, or both, what happens in Spain will not stay in Spain, and the death throes of the Western economy may be heard first on the Iberian Peninsula. 

Benjamin Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of The Bow Group. He tweets at @B_HQ and is also a director ofConservatives Abroad

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