PP leader Pablo Casado receives a standing ovation in Parliament. EFE
Two directions

Two directions


Who, exactly, is at fault for all the ongoing chaos in the Spanish conservative party?

Mark Nayler

Friday, 25 February 2022, 12:15


In May last year, an ally of Pablo Casado expressed enthusiasm about the Conservative candidate for the Madrid elections of 2019, the then-little known functionary Isabel Díaz Ayuso. "Casado made a risky bet on her as a member of a new generation," the source told the UK's Financial Times newspaper: "But he knew her qualities would help to refloat a brand that had been very damaged by cases of corruption."

Since beginning her rise to prominence in 2019, Ayuso has been a little too successful for Casado's liking. The party's national leader now seems intent on associating his former protegee with the kind of scandal that's dogged the Popular Party (PP) for decades and that terminated the career of Spain's last Conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. So much for Casado's apparently ardent hope that Ayuso would forge a new beginning for the mainstream Spanish right. But who, exactly, is at fault here?

As things stand, there's not enough evidence to prove that Ayuso is guilty of corruption. Let's suppose, then, that the scrappy Madrid leader has done nothing illegal - actually illegal, that is, as opposed to using the informal system of favours-for-mates, or "enchufe", which governs Spanish bureaucracy and much else besides.

In that case, Casado's accusations against Ayuso risk extinguishing the most dynamic version of Conservatism to emerge in Spain for years. The danger becomes greater when you look at the politician reputedly slated to take over from Casado, should the latter resign as a result of this week's ruckus.

Casado was never going to be the figure who revitalised the Spanish centre-right. Like many, even most, modern politicians, he does an awful lot of walking about, shaking hands and posing for photos but it's hard to tell what he actually thinks about anything. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, however, stands even less chance of fostering dynamism, despite having won four consecutive absolute majorities in the Galician parliament he controls.

Feijóo, 60, took over the Galician branch of the PP in 2005, filling a vacuum caused by the resignation of Manuel Fraga, tourism minister under Francisco Franco and the PP's founder. Feijóo was a favourite to succeed fellow Galician Rajoy as the PP's national leader in 2018; but he declined to run for the position, saying that his loyalties lay with the Junta de Galicia.

Like Feijóo, Ayuso has said that her current position as Madrid leader is as far as she wants to travel up the PP's hierarchy. Yet these two wildly differing politicians represent the two directions the party could take at the national level: back to the fusty, solid Conservatism of Fraga and Rajoy; or forward to a clear-headed, strident libertarianism and the party's first female leader. Forward, surely, is the only way to go.




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