Opinion Top Story

Conservatives Put Party Before Country. They’ve Harmed Both

And they call it patriotism.

Mariano Rajoy
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy looks out the window of a cable car in Sóller, Majorca, June 22, 2016 (PP)

Center-right leaders in Britain, Spain and the United States have put the interests of their parties ahead of the good of their countries. Both their parties and their countries have suffered as a result.


No man bears more responsibility for the division between Catalonia and the rest of Spain than Mariano Rajoy.

As conservative People’s Party leader, he led the attack on the region’s autonomy statute which the rival Socialist Party had negotiated. When the case reached the Constitutional Court, its conservative majority ruled in the People’s Party’s favor and annulled part of Catalonia’s self-government.

As prime minister, Rajoy refused to renegotiate Catalan home rule. He refused to so much as meet with Catalan leaders. Instead, he forced the region to make budget cuts during the economic crisis without giving it more control over how it could spend its own money.

When the largest party in Catalonia switched from pro-autonomy to pro-independence, Rajoy refused to budge. When separatist parties took over the regional government, still Rajoy would not talk. When the parties organized an independence referendum, over the objections of Rajoy’s government and the Constitutional Court, he sent in riot police to beat up voters, seize ballot boxes and detain elected officials. When the Catalans nevertheless declared the result valid, Rajoy suspended Catalonia’s autonomy and took direct control from Madrid.

His guiding principle throughout was to prevent a split on the Spanish right. His anti-Catalan stance was popular in the rest of Spain and seemed to matter more to voters than the corruption in his party. Until it didn’t.

Rajoy was forced out and support for the People’s Party fell in the polls. Rajoy’s successor, Pablo Casado, facing competition from the liberal right and the far right, doubled down, arguing for the indefinite suspension of Catalan autonomy.

It didn’t work. Other right-wing parties, who had previously struggled to win seats in Congress, were willing to go further. The liberal Citizens called Rajoy’s Socialist successor as prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, a “traitor” for being willing to negotiate with the separatists. The far-right Vox called for the abolition of all devolved administrations and the centralization of power in Madrid.

The People’s Party posted its worst election result in April, winning under 17 percent support against 16 percent for the Citizens and 10 percent for Vox. The Socialists remain in power. Catalonia is bitterly divided.

United Kingdom

Conservatives have neglected their responsibility to the union of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

David Cameron called a referendum on EU membership in an attempt to settle an intraparty dispute between Europhiles and Euroskeptics. He ended up dividing the country. A small majority of 52 percent voted to leave. Majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay. They would now rather leave the UK than crash out of the European Union.

Rather than pursue a “soft” Brexit that might appease the Scots and prevent the return of a harder border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, pushed for a hard break — leaving the European customs union and single market — that ends freedom of movement and puts exports at risk.

When she lost the Conservative majority in 2017, May made a deal with the hard-right Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland that upset the balance of power in the province. Pro-European and pro-Irish nationalists felt left out. The parties still haven’t formed a unity government, which itself puts the twenty-year peace between Catholics and Protests, nationalists and unionists, at risk.

As for the Conservative Party, it is being torn apart. In the European elections in May, it placed fifth with just 9 percent support, the party’s worst result since 1832. Moderates defected to the Liberal Democrats. Brexiteers voted for Nigel Farage. May was forced to resign. Her likely successor, Boris Johnson, is not the man to heal the rift.

United States

Republicans in the United States have allowed Donald Trump and his white identity politics to take over their party. It now has more in common with the European far right than it does with Britain’s Conservatives and Germany’s Christian Democrats.

This very week, only four out of 197 Republicans in Congress joined the Democratic majority in voting to condemn the president’s racist tweets in which he urged four left-wing congresswomen of color to “go back” to their own countries, no matter that three of them were born in America.

Trump is a racist, a misogynist, a self-confessed sexual predator who has been accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct; he has gutted the State Department, vilified the FBI, compared the CIA to Nazis and accepted Russian help to win the 2016 election, which he then tried to cover up by obstructing justice. Most Republicans either don’t believe it or they don’t care. Trump comes first, America second.