surinenglish

First things first

Pedro Sánchez is back. After eight months as a political outcast, the former Socialist leader once again took control of his party on Sunday, defeating establishment favourite Susana Diaz - head of the PSOE in Andalucía - in doing so.

Some commentators are expressing concerns that the reinstated PSOE leader will prove an obstacle to the passing of legislation, in particular the annual budget. But while it’s undoubtedly true that Mariano Rajoy’s job is about to become harder, equally true is the fact that Sánchez has plenty to sort out within his own party before he can present a credible opposition to the conservatives or effectively challenge their economic policies.

In any case, those concerned that Spain’s macroeconomic recovery may be derailed by further governmental paralysis can look to last year to assuage their fears.

In 2016, Spain trundled along for 10 months without a proper administration, yet still posted GDP expansion of 3.2% - the same as in 2015.

The shambles that was Spanish politics last year tells us that, on a macro-level at least, Spain’s economy can run itself. And it will do so again if renewed, Sánchez-led opposition to Rajoy creates more political deadlock.

That is not to excuse the impasse of last year - politically and reputationally-speaking, it was very damaging for Spain - but simply to remember that its economic impact barely registered.

Even if that weren’t true, though, a party in as much internal disarray as the PSOE doesn’t present much of a threat to the PP.

Though Sánchez won the leadership contest with 50% of the vote last Sunday, 40% of Socialists voted for Susana Díaz, who is favoured by the more pragmatic, rank-and-file party members.

It was mainly her supporters who stood back to allow Rajoy back in as prime minister last autumn, thereby opening up a chasm within the Socialist party.

On one side of this deep gorge are the centrist pragmatists, whilst facing them across a so-far-unbridgeable gap are the grassroots hardliners who want Rajoy out at any cost.

This camp is closer to radical Podemos - whose loathing for the PP boss sometimes seems more visceral than political - than moderate Socialists would like; indeed, for such members, Pablo Iglesias’ party is little more than a collection of leftist loonies whom the PSOE leader should keep at arm’s length.

Only if Sánchez can somehow unite these two sides of his own party will Rajoy face a robust adversary in congress; until he does, passing legislation and approving budgets will be no more difficult for Rajoy’s government than it already is.