Yolanda Díaz. / SUR

Avoiding confrontation

MARK NAYLER

Yolanda Díaz, currently a representative of Podemos and the coalition government's labour minister, proposes an entirely new way of doing politics. Last month, she unveiled a new initiative, Sumar ("to add"), which she plans to road test well in advance of the next general election, due before the end of 2023. Repeatedly named as Spain's most popular politician by polls, Díaz wants to offer an alternative to what she calls the "politics of confrontation", a style of talking and acting that has dominated Spain's parliament over the last few years.

One of the earliest manifestations of this style of politics was in the TV debates that preceded the general elections of April and November 2019. Standing behind their podiums, Albert Rivera (then leader of Ciudadanos), the Popular Party(PP)'s Pablo Casado, Podemos president Pablo Iglesias and Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez laid into each other without revealing anything of substance about their policies.

Then parliamentary sessions started to suffer. At the height of the pandemic, congressional debates often degenerated into Vox and/or the PP labelling the Socialists and Podemos "Communists" and the latter two accusing the former two of being "Fascists" who longed for a return to Francoism. Both caricatures were simplistic (although Díaz is a member of the Communist party) and aggressive. The various shades of right and left represented in parliament - from Vox through the centre to leftist, pro-independence groups from Catalonia and the Basque Country - itself gives the lie to such a binary characterisation.

The best example of this member-swinging method of debate occurred on May 6, 2020, in a deputies' session on whether to extend the State of Alarm. In a single fifteen-minute speech, Casado hit Sánchez with 37 insults - more than two a minute. Replacing reasoned criticism of the government's Covid policies was a barrage of verbal right-hooks: "liar", "negligent", "sloppy", "incapable", "Caesarean" (my favourite, if I had to pick one), "incompetent" and "quack".

This makes good TV, perhaps, but who's it really benefiting? No one, least of all the voters. Instead, Díaz wants to embark on a nationwide listening tour, which she hopes will enable her to "[extend] a hand and... reach agreements that change people's lives". After this civic odyssey, she'll then decide whether to launch Sumar as a contesting party for the election due in December 2023.

It shows you how dominant the politics of confrontation has become when the simple idea of listening to the electorate seems new, fresh, exciting. "The electorate? Wait, they sound familiar..."

On her travels throughout Spain, Diaz will surely encounter many voters who, like her, are thoroughly fed up with an insult-and-testosterone fuelled style of politics.