Postcard from Barcelona: Election debate shows digital disconnect of main party leaders

If the number of times I was the subject of some elaborate pick-pocketing scam whilst in Barcelona is any indication of the financial hardship that is faced by the local population then the situation there, despite increases in employment and GDP growth since 2013, remains desperate.

Whether walking down Las Ramblas – “the wide central artery of the town” as George Orwell put it – or enjoying breakfast just off Carrer de Balmes, I was put on constant alert; expectantly awaiting the next attempt by one of the chancers to relieve me of my valuables. What these individuals lacked in subtlety and deftness, however, they made up for in creativity.

Originality, imagination and audacity comparable only to the scathing ´golpes bajos´ (low blows) exchanged by Spanish Prime Minister and Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy and Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez during Monday night´s debate. This two-way tirade of colourful insults saw one poll declare neither of the men victor, whilst many other commentators awarded the victory to the absent party leaders of Podemos and Ciudadanos.

Spanish debate poll
The general public is tired of the incessant bickering that still persists between senior political figures, and this sentiment extends beyond Spain´s borders. I and many other British voters are utterly fatigued by the aggressive mud-slinging and liberal paraphrasing so often exhibited in the House of Commons. It´s so refreshing to see David Cameron brought to task for his labelling of anti-Syria bombing voters as “terrorist sympathisers”, or watch Bernie Sanders defend Hilary Clinton over the Republican´s protracted attacks against her email-inbox naivety, or Iglesias and Rivera engage in warm, jovial, productive debate.

Insults, jibes, personal attacks and so on are, from the perspective of many voters, redundant in modern politics. Aggression is very rarely a trait that successfully enamours you to the wider audience. If the meteoric rises of Bernie Sanders, Syriza, Podemos and Jeremy Corbyn have taught us anything it´s that optimism and community are the flavours of the month.

Rajoy´s great undoing during the debate was to acquiesce to Sanchez´s squabbling. For so long ´Mariano Plasma´s´ focus has been on remaining Prime Ministerial and sagacious; refusing to engage in debates with the 30-somethings Iglesias and Rivera, all the while emphasising his wealth of experience in politics. All this work was undone when he engaged in trading petty insults with Sanchez on Monday night.

It´s unfortunate that Rajoy was so easily manipulated, because had he stuck to his strategy of “hasta qui llemos hagado” (“look how far weve come”) then I think he could have easily won the contest.

At one point Rajoy decried Sanchez for depicting a “dark picture of Spain painted black”. But how dark is the picture really, and how far have Spain actually come since the peak of their financial crisis?

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the pickpockets, beggars, bin-rummagers and late-night Estrella vendors I encountered are a reflection of the current economic climate – they´re as much a part of the fabric of Barcelona as la Sagrada Familia or the Barcelona football team. Sure, the town was chipped, weathered and yellow, but hasn’t it always been?

Where the groundswell for change and equality was most tangible was on the lips and in the actions of the ordinary citizens. En Comu Podem and Ciutadans boasted of hand-painted banners and marquees buzzing with sincere conversation, whilst Rajoy and Rivera relegated themselves to sparse Metro billboards and plasma screens. There´s a disconnect between the once behemoths of Spanish politics – PP and PSOE – and the ordinary people; Monday night´s debate, and the fall-out from it, was a microcosm of this.
Spanish campaigners

* Sam Postlethwaite is a Liberal Democrat member with an interest in Spanish politics.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 19th Dec '15 - 12:15pm

    Michael “choo-choo” Portillo gave a different view of Barcelona, but did not say when the second cathedral will be finished.

  • Interesting piece. Here’s hoping Ciudadanos do well (more Canada than UK!).

  • Richard Underhill 19th Dec '15 - 12:57pm

    If the most prosperous part of a country wishes to secede it undermines the remainder of the country.
    Katanga led to a civil war in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo.
    Independence for Slovenia destabilised the carefully balanced, but undemocratic former Yugoslavia (SFRY).
    Spain has memories of the Falange under General Franco. We knew that it had become a democracy when it elected a government of Spanish socialists and there was no coup. Also possible, probably unique among modern democracies, was a referendum on the constitution which included the monarchy, because the King of Spain had given away his dictatorial powers, resulting in a Yes vote.
    Spanish devolution by “Variable geometry” is being copied in the UK now, but is a bad idea, which is difficult to unpick.

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