Opposing forces

This week's congressional get-together drew attention, once again, to the chasm that separates Spain's main political parties. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez repeated his call for unity to help the country recover from Covid-19, holding up recent EU collaboration on distributing recovery funds as the gold standard in this respect. Right-wing Vox, however, has other ideas, and wants to table a no-confidence vote against the prime minister in the autumn. As is so often the case, the best way of moving forward lies somewhere in between these two proposed approaches, each of which is too extreme in its own way.

It's surprising that the Socialist leader is still hoping for cross-party unity in dealing with the pandemic's economic and social effects: the opposition, in the form of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and right-wing Vox, has already shown its determination to win all the points it can from the Covid crisis, which it will do by portraying the Socialist-led government as inept and interfering.

Yet the Frankenstinian behemoth Sánchez wants to materialise isn't even desirable in the first place. There must always be a strong opposition to hold a government to account and to present alternatives to its policies, especially during crises, when leaders are prone to abuses of power and panicked decision-making.

But Vox's proposal of a no confidence vote in September, though, highlights where Sánchez's opponents are going wrong. The Spanish opposition seems to have nothing else in its armoury except a dictionary of personal insults from which to abuse the prime minister and a range of showy tactics, designed chiefly to satisfy its supporters' visceral loathing of the left, especially the trendy left represented by Podemos.

As well as the proposed no-confidence vote (which would be unlikely to remove Sánchez from power anyway), Wednesday's parliamentary session featured two other examples of an entertaining but ultimately shallow approach to opposition. In a partly accurate reference to Podemos, PP leader Pablo Casado said that the post-World War Two "Marshall Plan" - with which Sánchez has compared the EU Covid recovery effort - was supposed to "prevent communism, not to sponsor it"; and Vox chief Pablo Abascal might as well have shaken his fist at the prime minister when he said, "Don't you even think about locking us up again, because we won't put up with it." A point well made, Sir!

Just as Spain wouldn't benefit from a monochrome, cross-party force dominating the political scene, it requires more than a perennially outraged opposition reliant on dramatic flourishes, "ad hominem" attacks and dodgy historical comparisons.

The pyrotechnics of Vox and the PP make for good TV, but Spain needs an opposition that proposes viable alternatives and presents constructive criticism of the government's proposals, not one that shouts without thinking.