Excma. Sra. Da. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes her oath as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Presidency and Territorial Administrations before H.M. King Felipe VI, November 4th 2016.
Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro is a 2nd year student of History and International Relations at King’s College London and also the author of Limitando el poder, 1871-1939 and of Los últimos gobernantes de Castilla, with an interest in diplomacy and government.
June 1st 2018: Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister since 2011, is ousted from power by a no-confidence motion put forward by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE); a few days later he announces his withdrawal from the leadership of the conservative Popular Party and from politics. July 21st 2018: the PP has a new leader, Pablo Casado, 37. This young and exciting party leader with no experience in government wins against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, 47, Rajoy’s deputy prime minister and natural heiress. September 10th 2018: Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría withdraws from politics and abandons the Popular Party.
Since November 2011, when Mr Rajoy won the general election with an absolute majority, Spanish political analysts and media have coined the term ‘Rajoyismo’ referring to the set of policies and attitudes of Mr Rajoy and his government. It is an ambiguous term many in Spain have been using in the last eight years with different significations. For example, the online newspaper Libertad Digital, wrote in early July 2018 that the Popular Party had to choose between ‘Liberal renovation or more Rajoyismo’, thus defining Rajoyismo as a form of political immobilism which supports government interventionism. The Spanish extreme left, represented by pseudo-Communist parties such as Unidos Podemos or Izquierda Unida, identify Rajoyismo’with economic austerity, corruption scandals and support for large corporations and fortunes.
It is difficult to define what ‘Rajoyismo’ has really been. Mariano Rajoy hasn’t been a traditional conservative leader in Spain. He hasn’t appealed to nationalistic feelings of ‘the grand Spain” or to the traditional values of conservatism and thus has been considered weak by many when confronting nationalistic problems such as the Catalan secessionist crisis of 2017. He has simply been an administrator of the state, a technocrat. As such he managed to put Spain through the most terrifying economic panorama of its recent history without having to resort to a financial rescue from the European Union. He had, nevertheless, to increase taxation and cut government spending, a sacrilege for centre-right governments. Rajoyismo, therefore, could be described as a form of government based on the rule of necessity, not on the rule of ideology. Rajoyismo is a form of technocracy which leaves traditional political ideology in the background.
Rajoyismo was practiced by what became the core of all of Rajoy’s governments from 2011 to 2018: the Deputy Prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Minister of Employment, Fátima Báñez, and the Minister for the Treasury, Cristóbal Montoro. Although these statesmen are part of the centre-right PP, they have been carrying out a liberal technocratic agenda which in several occasions confronted the more Christian Democrat wing of the council of ministers and the Party. Their detractors have accused core members of Rajoyismo of being ‘social democrats’ because of their economic policies and their ambiguous posture towards the demands of the different Autonomous communities the Spanish territory is divided into. Those who argue that the core of Rajoyismo sympathised with social democratic methods fail to understand that Rajoyismo, as Mr Rajoy, Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría and Mr Montoro practised it, is a form of government which is based on doing what needs to be done, not what one would desire to do. A critical member of the Popular Party of Catalonia argued that in the last years the PP had fallen into the hands of technocrats with no ideology at all. Yet, at the end of the day, technocracy is the ideology of what is right, of what is correct. Fiscal pressure was imperative for a country which was on the verge of being financially rescued by the European Union. The European Economic Adjustment program, which Spain was advocated to, was averted; it was replaced, nevertheless, with harsh austerity measures which were, nonetheless, necessary, for by 2014, after five years of economic depression, Spain’s GDP rose again.
As Rajoy left power in June 2017, the PP began the search for a new leader. Sáenz de Santamaría was the natural successor and many thought she would indeed succeeded her political father after the Party’s XIX Congress. Yet Santamaría’s non-ideological technocracy had earned her several opponents within the Party, opponents which, despite being loyal to Rajoy, did not hesitate to support a “non-natural heir”. She lost to Pablo Casado, a young member of the Party’s Executive Committee who won the hearts and minds of the members of the XIX Congress by appealing to the ideology which had been forsaken during the period of Rajoyismo . Mr Casado has gone back to a period in which the PP could be identified with the values of life, family, morals, territorial unity and expansionary fiscal policy. It isn’t that Rajoyismo relinquished these values, on the contrary. Rajoyismo was always based on the values of the PP but yet wasn’t over dependent on them and it didn’t consent party dogmas to influence the governing of Spain. Ideology makes politics; technocracy makes government.
Over this summer, Spain has been speculating about Santamaría’s future after her defeat in the XIX Congress: would she integrate Mr Casado’s team in a reformed party? Or would she leave? She finally put an end to the incognita: yesterday, she left her seat in the Congress of Deputies and the Party. Indeed it was difficult to imagine Santamaría continuing her political career as a mere MP after having been Spain’s most powerful stateswoman in recent history. Her withdrawal from politics signals the end of Rajoyismo. The PP will no relive a period of its history in which it aimed to represent the solidity of conservative thought. Let’s see if it manages to do so. In the last elections, the PP has been losing votes from its “left wing”, to the centrist Liberal party Ciudadanos (C’s). It would therefore need a more liberal, moderate approximation to the Centre rather than to the Right, where the right-wing party VOX barely constitutes a threat to its electorate.
Rajoyismo will never come back for it was very dependent on Mr Rajoy’s persona. Sáenz de Santamaría was the only realist heir of Rajoy. This form of right-wing governing has been unprecedented in Spanish history. In the History of the Spanish Right-wing Rajoyismo has certainly been extremely important for it has been an attempt to serenely reconfigure the Right in times of global political exaltation. The renouncement of Sáenz de Santamaría is sad news for Spanish politics, for the Spanish Right and for all of us who sympathised with the principles of Rajoyismo. She was an extremely prepared and hard-working politician who represented the continuation of a political movement which separated itself from the embryo of the party ideology in order to achieve its goal: the technocratic, and hence correct, administration of the state.