It was an odd sort of week for opposition leader Mariano Rajoy. On the one hand, he received what many observers and members of his own party considered a stab in the back from Madrid Community President Esperanza Aguirre, one of the first to come to his defence after the Partido Popular’s defeat in the general election. Last week, she floated the idea that she just might make a bid for party president at the PP’s congress in June which, if successful, would unseat Rajoy. And on the other, Prime Minister-elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said more than once during the parliamentary debate that preceded his confirmation as PM that he had every intention of collaborating closely with the main opposition party during the next four years – after doing everything in his power to exclude the PP from the political scene during the last four years. Zapatero’s U-turn came as a great relief to most people, especially Rajoy, who were just as confounded as the PP leader by Aguirre’s U-turn, which she made during a speech at a forum organised by the daily newspaper, the ABC. It was her change of attitude that caught the attention of the media, always happy to do a bit of stirring, instead of the very valid observations she made during the speech. She pointed out that the Socialists had set several ideological traps during the last legislature to make the PP look “antipatico (unpleasant) and anticuado (antiquated)”, what she called – in English – the “nasty party”. One of these traps was the same-sex marriage law, which the PP opposed on religious rather than homophobic grounds. However, the Socialists and especially their Communist ally, the Izquierda Unida (IU, United front), played up the homophobic element. Aguirre said she found it paradoxical because the old Socialist Party of the Second Republic was as openly homophobic as everyone else was in those days while the Catalan Communist Party wouldn’t allow gays to join it even as late as the 1960s. She also found it paradoxical that Zapatero was a defender of Fidel Castro – a rabid homophobic who jailed every gay in Cuba when he took power. Just as paradoxical is Zapatero’s proposal for an Alliance of Civilisations with Moslem countries where homosexuality is forbidden and gay men stay in the closet rather than face jail or even hanging. The other trap, Aguirre said, was the Historical Memory Law which was passed to right the wrongs of the Franco dictatorship. She said the Socialists and the IU, which initially proposed the law, made it look as if nothing had been done for the victims until now, when in fact since 1977 successive government – including the two PP administrations – have paid out more than 16 billion euros in compensation to those who were imprisoned or forced into exile after the Civil War and to the families of those who were executed by Franco during or after the war. The PP opposed the law on the grounds that it unnecessarily opened up old wounds and conjured up ghosts that were best left alone – the attitude taken by all the political parties during the Transition from dictatorship to democracy (1975-77). She then listed several things that she refused to accept, mentioning among other things the current sorry state of education at secondary and university level, Spain’s relegation to what she called the “Third Division” on the world scene and the fact that the Socialists have allowed the Catalan and Basque nationalists to dictate national policies. On the latter point she is not alone. Zapatero himself seems to have decided to put an end to his flirtation with the nationalists and a growing number of people, including many Socialists, are beginning to think that the best place for the Nationalist parties is in their own regional parliaments and not in Parliament in Madrid. Since Aguirre made her speech last Monday, the party has rallied behind Rajoy and it is highly unlikely that she will be able to unseat him, much to the Socialists’ relief. Aguirre is the closest thing to Margaret Thatcher on the European political scene today and she would give Zapatero a very rough ride if she became opposition leader. Which is perhaps why the PM is being so nice to Rajoy these days – better the devil you know than Esperanza Aguirre. The most ironical scenario would be if Aguirre does take over the party and leads it to victory at the next election, making the “nasty party” the first one to produce a woman Prime Minister in Spain – a scenario the Socialists want to reserve for themselves. But if it could happen in Britain, it could happen here.