surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

Getting too comfortable

People don't like their politicians to be comfortable. They don't like [them] to have expenses and they don't like [them] being paid. They'd rather [they] lived in a f***ig cave.”

These colourfully expressed truths come from the Alastair Campbell-based character Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi in the incomparable BBC comedy The Thick of It. The electorate's dislike of politicians' comfort even applies to the types of chairs they have in their offices, as Tucker explains in the same scene: he furiously advises the minister he's breaking in to junk her lumber-support seat with something that's not a “f***ing massive vibrating throne”.

There was reason to remember Tucker's sweary wisdom once again this week, when news of the Podemos leader's house purchase broke. Pablo Iglesias and his partner, Podemos spokeswoman Irene Montero, have been blasted for buying a €600,000 country house outside Madrid. Iglesias' and Montero's critics say that the purchase betrays their responsibilities as leaders of a party representing ordinary workers; and as Montero recognised in a statement after the news emerged, the ordinary Spanish worker could not afford such a property (that was supposed to be her “defence”).

Given the double standards that prevail among present-day politicians, it's surprising that such surprise has been voiced at the leftist couple's house purchase. Yet it's precisely because Iglesias presented himself as one of a new breed of Spanish politician - a type that would not do one thing in private and say another in public - that reaction to his and Montero's domestic upgrade has been so swift and angry.

Spaniards, like the British, don't like to see their politicians living more comfortably than the people they supposedly represent - especially when the politicians in question are leftist crusaders who preach social equality. A jaded commitment to double standards is expected from dinosaurs like Rajoy, but the young Podemos duo were supposed to be different. It turns out that they're not that different after all.

It's not just that the leftist MPs have treated themselves to a property that many of their supporters (especially unemployed youngsters or workers on minimum-wage contracts) are unlikely ever to be able to afford. Iglesias is also having to contend with the justified charge of hypocrisy. Back in 2012, he criticised the former Conservative economy minister Luis de Guindos for buying a €600,000 apartment. He's also said to have made disparaging remarks in 2015 about politicians “isolating themselves” by going to live in big houses.

Iglesias has put Housegate to a vote within his party and vowed to resign if members ask him to. The result of Podemos' internal referendum will be known on Monday, but the damage has already been done. Iglesias' and Montero's purchase of the bricks-and-mortar equivalent of a “massive vibrating throne” has revealed them to be very ordinary politicians indeed.