Postcard from Madrid: Spanish forgiveness presents unique opportunity for Podemos

I have noticed during my time in Spain, and research prior, that equivocation and outright policy reversals are not met with the same scorn and derision by the media and general public here that they are in UK politics.

Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias have all, at some point in recent years, reneged, retracted, backtracked or outright refuted stances or statements they once held or pronounced, with very little cost to their wider popularity. In the United Kingdom at least, this is a cardinal sin; pure sacrilege. An example of how overt Spanish politicians are when backpedalling can be seen in Rajoy´s response to hiking VAT in 2012 after pledging not to, “I said I would lower taxes and I am raising them. I haven´t changed my way of thinking but circumstances have changed”. Who, in the run up to this year´s election, has mentioned this as a reason for rebuke against Rajoy?

The Liberal Democrats suffered a complete collapse partly because of such a manoeuvre (losing 48 seats in the 2015 UK general election), whilst just recently John McDonnell and then David Cameron were the subjects of much ridicule for making statements which they then failed to act upon (McDonnell’s U-turn on George Osbourne´s fiscal charter proposal, and Cameron failing to come to a decision on Heathrow by the end of this year). There’s been no such reprimand for Iglesias and his abandoning of “basic universal income” and a “citizen’s audit of Spanish public debt” – both policies he included in his European election manifesto, but which are absent from this year’s, “An economic plan for the people”. This is great news for him, as he’s being granted license to remould his and his party’s image.

Let me just caveat that I am a big advocate of the central tenet of Spanish Catholicism that is forgiveness; I think that equivocation and evolution of one’s stances based on new information are healthy for politics. I would much rather have Barack Obama at the helm admitting ISIS is a complex problem to resolve than listen to the Republican Presidential candidates falteringly present simple five-step plans to resolving crises such as Syria – steps which are as risible as, “Unleash the power of the U. S. Air Force”.

Often political issues aren’t black or white, and they require a more nuanced approach than bomb, ban or block. Nick Clegg eloquently lambasts this practice when referring to the European Union in his essay “Europe: A Liberal Future”:

Since the critics of the European Union usually express their views in highly emotional terms – e.g. “super state”, “conspiracy”, “bureaucratic monster” etc. – it is difficult to resist the temptation to return fire in similar terms. The result is a debate that is both hysterical in tone and dishonest in content. A false choice is presented to the public: one of two extremes in which an almost theological choice needs to be made about whether you are for or against.

Luis Allegre (one of the founders of Podemos) expressed similar frustration in an interview with my friend Eddie Cummings when referring to Podemos´ stance on Catalan independence.

Our stance [with regard to the Cataluna question] is not undefined, it is just difficult to interpret. We defend the right to decide in general, but nevertheless defend the possibility of living as Spaniards in a form of cohabitation with which everyone feels comfortable… This is in contrast to the Partido Popular, whose strategy is truly unpatriotic. As the question of Catalan independence is still ongoing, the PP use it t generate “catalanophobia” and get votes in the rest of Spain.

The Spanish public´s quickness to forgive a policy change, and understand that equivocation is a healthy sign of honest politics, presents Iglesias – who, if the polls are correct, looks set to miss out on government – a unique, and much needed opportunity. Iglesias´ incendiary, radical rhetoric has done him a great many favours up until now in capturing the attention of the world´s media, however he´s already had to renege on some of his proposals from the European election, as they were simply too fantastical and unlikely.

The fact that Iglesias and Podemos will be permitted to evolve and morph further whilst in opposition presents them with a rare opportunity to expand their supporter base, without diluting their existing support. It´s time that they focused their message, and made themselves fit for government – I´ll address this further in my next blog.

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

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Simon Banks 20th Dec '15 - 4:49pm

    Interesting, thanks. But they’ve refuted their previous positions (conclusively proved them to be false)? Or just rejected or even rebutted them?

  • Katerina Porter 22nd Dec '15 - 12:01pm

    It does sound more grown up

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Mark Frankel
    This strikes me as a bit overblown. The American civil war killed 600,000. What will be the death toll under a new Trump presidency?...
  • Martin Gray
    Centrist governments support the rules of international order. Sadly , when it comes to the Palestine those rules , those values , have all but been abandoned...
  • Peter Hirst
    For all its faults, America remains a democracy and we must retain our links. Brexit allows us to show flexibility in our strategic relations. We must now allow...
  • David Raw
    As a long time student of political history who first joined (and was employed by) the Liberal Party way back in 1962, I've come to believe that the basic quali...
  • Peter Hirst
    Putting country before party seems to me to be quite apposite in the context of the last decade. The Party system is a weakness of our present structures. It is...