As we proceed through the Party Conference season here in the UK, before Parliament returns on 10th October, we do, at least have a government, albeit one with a majority of only 17 in the House of Commons and with an unelected Prime Minister. Spare a thought for Spain where there is still deadlock and, as of 5th October, the country has been 290 days without an elected government.
As in Britain, the established party of the left, PSOE, is imploding in spectacular fashion. Its leader, Pedro Sanchez, took a hard-line anti-right stance and made a pact with Podemos, the newer, more radical party of the left. This leftist coalition reflects the practical situation on the ground in many places in Spain. Elements of the PSOE elite consider this unacceptable, saying Podemos’ anti-austerity platform is unaffordable. They are also aggrieved at the party’s poorest showing in national and regional elections since the re-establishment of democracy in Spain. And, oh yes, personal ambition is playing its part.
When I was in Spain recently events were unfolding across TV screens. PSOE performed poorly in Galician and Basque Country regional elections on 26th September and some members of the party’s equivalent of Labour’s National Executive Committee began openly calling for Sanchez’ resignation and the installation of Susanna Diaz in his place. Sanchez refused to go and called party primary elections for 23rd October and a ‘back me or sack me’ vote.
On 28th September Sanchez’ opponents on the committee, including Diaz, staged a mass resignation, something which should, under party rules have required the General Secretary – Sanchez – to step down. He refused, saying that the dissenters had ‘staged a coup’. Both sides claimed to be the legitimate leaders of the party. Across Spain, PSOE politicians came out for one side or the other and it, very publicly, became an internal war. I think I saw more regional and municipal PSOE leaders on TV last week than I had ever done before.
Rajoy and the PP (right-wing), while trying to appear above the fray, piled the pressure on. Then Pablo Iglesias and Podemos claimed that their ally was being sabotaged by those within PSOE who were actually supporters of the PP.
A meeting of PSOE’s 295 member federal committee took place on 1st October at Party HQ in Madrid, the building surrounded by journalists, political commentators and supporters of both sides ( plus plenty of police ). Within, Sanchez proposed that there should be a party congress and asked for a secret ballot. This was rejected by his opponents. Delegates were in tears and there were reports of a physical assault on Sanchez by Diaz’ deputy. The media loved it. A vote by show of hands resulted in Sanchez losing and he resigned, though he has already hinted that he may stand in the party primaries and has said that the battle for the leadership is not over yet.
There is history between Sanchez and Diaz – she backed him to become leader, in return, it is thought, for a promise to make way for her at a later point. He didn’t step down. British readers have seen that before – between Blair and Brown, in the relatively halcyon days when the world still seemed a positive place.
So what happens next? Rajoy will seek to form a government via an investiture vote. What will PSOE do? Some members are already saying they’ll oppose any new leader (and Diaz does now look tainted, the question is by how much). Rajoy is threatening a third general election in under a year, set, this time, for Christmas Day 2016 if he doesn’t get support. Christmas Day!!!
Watch this space.