Once again, I shall try to summarise the political situation in Spain, and then we shall return to normal donkey blog mode with great news from Ireland (no, not the Irish referendum but the birth of rare twin donkey foals.)
For the few people interested in reading this blog for an interpretation of the unexpected and sudden upset in Spanish government, I repeat what I said in the comments to the previous blog post: I write this blog as a diary, not as an invitation to a political argument. The Spanish press follows a pattern of very late publication in keeping with the nocturnal life of the capital and front pages appear much later than in the in the UK. Consequently, I have been looking at El Pais, La Vanguardia, ABC etc. at 3 a.m. on this Saturday morning, as Pedro Sanchez is due to go to the Zarzuela palace at 11 o’clock to meet king Felipe VI and officially become the seventh prime minister during Spain’s democratic period (the third socialist leader incidentally.)
Little more than a week ago, not even the sharpest political commentators would have guessed this outcome, so I am not at all surprised that many of my fellow expats here, or indeed those watching from the UK or other parts of Europe, really don’t understand what has happened here. This week has indeed been a slow motion car crash which leaves – like any car crash – an immediate sense of “What fools allowed that to happen?”
In fact quite a number of fools were involved, from ex-prime minister Rajoy (together with the blinkered leadership of his Popular Party), through the dangerously ambitious Albert Rivera (of the right-leaning centre Citizens party), to the separatists of the Basque country and Catalonia, who only wanted to exercise their opportunist muscle to damage the Spanish state, as usual. Note, I do not include the populist left Podemos party among the fools: for they have played the game masterfully. Compared with their scheming, even the worst corrupt PP politicians are clowns who probably thought Macchiavelli was to be found in a coffee shop.
What happened in this slow motion car crash? How did Pedro Sanchez, with only 84 seats in a 350 seat parliament, suddenly win a confidence vote and become prime minister? Here is my summary of the crash.
The Gürtel corruption case which implicated the PP in a complex “kickbacks for contracts” scandal has been dragging on for years and nobody should have been surprised at the outcome when the trial ended – little more than a week ago – with the jailing of significant PP players. The facts of the case were not news. They have filled pages 35 to 37 of the newspapers for the past decade! When the PP front bench pleaded, “This is historical and has nothing to do with the competence of the present government,” they were quite confident this would just be a temporary image hiccup and it would all be forgotten within the week. That was an understandable misreading of the situation: because that’s exactly what has happened every time a corruption scandal has hit the headlines, whether it was a whole corrupt PP region like Valencia or even a scandal involving the minor royals.
What was different this time was the successful opportunist manoeuvring of players on the periphery: principally Pablo Iglesias of the populist left Podemos party, the handful of Basque and Catalan separatists, and of course the leader of the much reduced PSOE socialists, who is now prime minister with little more than a quarter or third of the seats in the house.
What was also significant was the unsuccessful opportunist manoeuvring of Albert Rivera who hoped to use the advantage of everyone giving the PP a kicking to have an early general election while the opinion polls were favouring his centre-right Citizens party. He expected the PSOE’s no-confidence vote to fail, but did not have the numbers to propose a no-confidence vote himself, calling for elections.
So the Podemos leader did it instead. This in turn caused the Basque separatists to support the PSOE motion, when the government expected them to vote against the motion because of recent financial deals which will inject a huge amount of cash into the Basque economy. The Basques simply switched horses to avoid elections which may unseat them.
On Thursday afternoon, Prime minister Rajoy was having a break in a Madrid restaurant from the no confidence debate, when the news came through by phone that the handful of Basque separatists had switched allegiance to vote with the PSOE. Incredibly, Rajoy did not finish his lunch for eight hours, leaving the restaurant at 10 p.m. and never returning to the debate on the censure vote. He only returned to congress a few minutes before the vote – the following morning – to deliver his short farewell speech.
At this point it should also be said that Rajoy could have resigned after it was apparent that the Gürtel case was the fatal iceberg to the PP government’s Titanic. This would have produced a general election which the PSOE could not have won and the Citizens party of Rivera might have performed its usual role of supporting a weak PP, this time in a pact in congress after a vote which gave neither a majority. The reason Rajoy would not take this course is that he really believed the Gürtel case did not have anything to do with him: a resignation would look like an admission that it did!
And that is how the slow motion car crash happened. That is how Pedro Sanchez becomes prime minister with just 84 seats out of 350, supported by the extreme left Podemos (think Venezuela…), and the motley crew of Basque nationalists and Catalan separatists. And just everybody on right and left now hates Albert Rivera and his failed opportunist Citizens party.
One unintended consequence doesn’t seem to have been noticed by anyone yet. The Attorney General is a political appointment, and the present one Julián Sánchez Melgar will resign as soon as his replacement is announced by Pedro Sánchez. The Attorney General has kept the Catalan separatist leaders in prison since last autumn. I can see Guardia Civil prison warders already congratulating the unwelcome Catalan Jordis and the rest of the pirates, and helping to pack their cardboard boxes for going home.
As I said to my daughter, who hoped the political situation will settle down soon: this is going to be an ongoing unsettled time. People will be saying – as early as next week – “Please give us our old corrupt politicians back. At least they knew what they were doing with the money.”
There used to be a lot of car crashes in Spain but after successful safety campaigns in the past twenty years they are now comparatively rare. This one will mark the turning point in forty years of modern Spanish political history. It is in my view Spain’s equivalent of the Trump moment, or the Brexit moment. The unthinkable has just happened, and the name for it has gained currency in all today’s Spanish media: ‘the Frankenstein Government.’
And so – once again – back to the more sensible world of donkeys where a very unusual event has happened too. A long-time reader of this blog in Ireland has sent me the great news that twin donkey foals have been born on a farm there in Donegal. This may seem an unremarkable observation if you are unfamiliar with donkeys, but the successful carrying and live birth of twin foals is a very rare event. When mine were pregnant I was hoping they wouldn’t have twins but everyone reassured me it was extremely unlikely. When I did some research to check that, it was quite clear that donkeys do not have twins, and rarely produce live ones. So here’s the story, with a video link to the lovely foals. Thanks to Annie for sending this.