Getting to the point

As always with Spanish politics, one has to look beyond the personal insults and bickering

Mark Nayler

Friday, 23 October 2020, 20:14

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Predictably, the no-confidence motion brought by Vox against Spain's Socialist-led minority government this week degenerated into name-calling and finger-pointing, in which each side labelled the other as "totalitarian", amongst many other savage epithets.

Lacking as he does cross-party support for the motion, Vox leader Santiago Abascal also knows that it's unlikely to remove the Socialists and their junior partner, leftist Podemos, from power. But that's not the point: by leading the criticism of the government's management of the Covid crisis and its preferred methods of operating, Abascal hopes to undermine the Popular Party (PP)'s status as Spain's main opposition party, and to portray Pablo Casado's Conservatives as a spent force.

The Vox leader's no-confidence motion against Pedro Sánchez is undoubtedly part of that ongoing (and fairly successful) project, but it's misleading to characterise it solely as a sideways attack on the PP, or to dismiss it as nothing more than well-timed gamesmanship.

In doing so, the charges that Vox makes against Sánchez's administration are glossed over or ignored, instead of receiving the attention that they deserve. Frothing, furious Abascal does himself no favours in this respect, either: he taunts and mocks the prime minister, rather than soberly presenting arguments for consideration. As always with Spanish politics, one has to look beyond personal insults and bickering to get to the actual point.

One of the reasons stated by Vox for bringing the no-confidence motion is Sánchez's "criminal management of the pandemic". The charge of criminality in this context may be difficult to substantiate (and, one senses, will never actually be pursued), but Abascal is right to question whether Spain's government has used the powers it possesses under a "state of alarm" wisely or justly. Many complex issues have been raised by Sánchez's handling of the virus, from the defensibility of total lockdowns to the practice of introducing measures that curtail freedoms with little or no scientific justification.

The broader criticism Vox makes of the Socialist-led coalition concerns "democratic degeneration", a charge which also holds weight, despite how overwrought its presentation has been. Throughout the last few months, Sánchez has largely ruled by Royal Decree - that's to say, by hurriedly passing legislation via this emergency mechanism, without first presenting proposals to parliament, or indeed to anyone other than the members of his cabinet.

Questionable Covid policies have been approved behind closed doors and restrictive measures have been introduced with zero notice and/or scant justification. Is this way of operating an abuse of the powers temporarily granted to the government under a "state of alarm"? Again, it's a point that deserves consideration, not to be written off as right wing conspiracy-mongering. This goes for many - but by no means all - of Vox's criticisms of the Sánchez administration, no matter what their true purpose might be, or how hysterical Abascal's rhetoric often is.

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