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Don't believe the hype about Rajoy being replaced by a 'socialist' prime minister – he's no Spanish Corbyn

Pedro Sanchez is nothing more than a photogenic centrist lackey who is sacrificing the principles of his voters in an opportunistic grab for power

Sirena Bergman
Friday 01 June 2018 17:48 BST
Spanish government collapses as vote of no confidence is passed for Mariano Rajoy

Despite prolonging the agony of his vote of no confidence by skipping out on parliament and hanging out at a fancy restaurant for eight hours yesterday afternoon, Mariano Rajoy is now well and truly out of the position he’s held since 2011 as Spain’s prime minister.

After years of scandals, trials and convictions which have seen swathes of Rajoy’s right-wing chums sent to prison for corruption, it was absurd that he was still in power, yet the Popular Party seemed undefeatable. Despite revelation after revelation in an anti-corruption investigation with so many twists it makes the Mueller probe into Trump’s collusion with Russia seem comparatively tame, the party lived up to its egotistical name and bafflingly kept getting elected.

It seems though that its luck might have run out. Last week the party’s treasurer Luis Barcenas was given a 33-year jail sentence after he was convicted of money laundering, tax crimes and receiving bribes. Francisco Correa (also known as “Don Vito” – yes, as in The Godfather), the businessman who was at the helm of the spiders’ web of criminal activity which has engulfed Spain for the best part of a decade, was sentenced to 51 years.

Parliament this morning took a vote of no confidence and elected to remove Rajoy and instate Pedro Sanchez, leader of the so-called Socialist Workers’ Party, as interim prime minister – possibly for the next two years until the next scheduled election. In a close parallel to Britain, Spain has been run by a fiscally conservative party since 2011, so those on the left will be tempted to celebrate. We must resist that urge and remember that – much like the Holy Roman Empire and Carphone Warehouse – the Spanish Socialist Party is not in practice what its name would suggest.

This is the party whose former leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, implemented austerity cuts worth €15bn (£12.5bn), including labour reform which allowed employers to sack workers for taking time off (even due to illness) and lowered the amount of compensation workers would receive if they were laid off. Other curious-for-a-socialist choices Zapatero made included pension freezes and cuts both to child welfare and home care for the elderly.

Former economics professor Sanchez, it would seem, is cut of the same cloth. In order to take power he has had to reach an agreement with the minority parties in government, many with views opposed to his party's. He has made no mention of reversing the horrific cuts to social services, education and heathcare which have devastated Spain for the past six years – indeed he would likely be unable to scramble together enough votes to do so, and he knows it.

But it’s his opposition to Podemos, the party standing on a platform to reduce inequality and austerity and institute a proper welfare state, which outs Sanchez as a man of little socialist principle.

Podemos was founded from grassroots opposition to the endemic Spanish corruption which has finally lost Rajoy his job. The party and its intransigent leader Pablo Iglesias want radical reform of the government institutions in order to create a system which will actually speak for the people, rather than line the pockets of the greedy megalomaniacs the main parties seem to be unable to shed.

Don’t be fooled – Sanchez is not a Corbyn-esque man of the people, but rather a centrist photogenic lackey who is sacrificing the principles of his voters in an opportunistic grab for power.

Ten years after the credit crunch, Spain still has a youth unemployment rate of 35 per cent. After living there for a decade, I left the country in 2008 to go to university in the UK – I was lucky to have this option. Most of my contemporaries graduated into an economy where a minimum wage, zero-hour contract job in retail or hospitality was the best they could hope for, and things seem to have barely improved since then. I have yet to hear Sanchez make a convincing case for how his party can support the young people who were the worst affected by a recession they had no hand in causing, now approaching their thirties with university debt and no prospect of ever moving out of their parents’ homes. Were he to be invited to a Spanish version of Glastonbury, I can only imagine he would be lucky to escape with an egg-free face.

If Sanchez recognises that his position will raise his profile and little else, he will call an election and hope for a mandate to govern. Were his party to actually achieve a majority I have no doubt that it would be a better option than the corrupt, heartless, right-wing alternative, but what the Spanish government really needs is the radical transformation Podemos is promising, and Sanchez is certainly not the man to deliver that.

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