Sánchez and Feijóo. / EFE

Trigger happy

Uninspiring new Popular Party (PP) leader Alberto Feijóo wants to take Pedro Sánchez down, politically speaking rather than literally

MARK NAYLER

Uninspiring new Popular Party (PP) leader Alberto Feijóo wants to take Pedro Sánchez down, politically speaking rather than literally. Manuel Murillo Sánchez (no relation to his famous namesake), on the other hand, favours a more radical way of ousting the Socialist leader: this week, the 65 year-old security guard from the Catalan town of Terrassa was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for writing in a WhatsApp group chat that he wanted to shoot the Spanish prime minister dead.

Murillo Sánchez was apparently enraged by the government's proposals to relocate Francisco Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen, a stunt which finally occurred on live TV in October 2019. His talk of violent intervention - in this case of "ending" Sánchez with "one precise shot" - brings to mind sentiments expressed by retired members of the Spanish Air Force in 2020, again in a WhatsApp group. In a conversation about Catalan separatists, one of the group's participants reportedly wrote, "There is no other choice but to start executing 26 million sons-of-bitches."

Just before details of the latter WhatsApp group were handed over to Spain's public prosecutor, 73 retired army officials (including the angry old man quoted above) signed a letter sent directly to King Felipe VI. Pledging their loyalty to the monarch as the head of the armed forces, the signatories warned of the threat to "national cohesion" posed by the "Socialist-Communist government" (a reference to employment minister and Communist Party member Yolanda Díaz).

Around the same time, Felipe received a similar missive signed by 39 former members of Spain's Royal Air Force. Both epistolary appeals were prompted by a budget deal made in November 2020 between Sánchez's government and pro-independence parties from the Basque Country and Catalonia - a deal that Spain's reactionary old guard saw as the beginning of the end for the "homeland". One imagines Murillo Sánchez, who also received a five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons, shares these concerns.

A broadly similar point - that Sánchez's perceived leniency towards separatist groups risks splitting up the country - has been raised many times by his political adversaries. In early 2019, then-Conservative leader Pablo Casado (who handed over to Feijóo at the beginning of this month) accused Sánchez of "high treason" for holding talks with Catalan secessionists, although the attempted dialogue quickly broke down. The threat posed to Spanish democracy, claimed Casado, was the "gravest" since the attempted military coup of 1981 - a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly.

The recent success of nationalist Vox, as well as the early victories of Ciudadanos, a centrist party launched to oppose Catalan secession, suggest that many on the Spanish right and centre-right see Sánchez as a committed antagonist of national unity. Given that dour Feijóo wants to drown out Pablo Abascal as the right's dominant voice, he's likely to try and fuel the PP's resurgence by tapping this discontent.