Forgiveness presents a unique opportunity for Podemos

20 Dec 2015


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


Leading politicians 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 overt backpedalling can be seen when Prime Minister Rajoy hiked VAT in 2012 after pledging not to do so. The Prime Minister commented: "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 people's concerns remain unanswered


The Liberal Democrats experienced a complete collapse partly because of a similar manoeuvre by Nick Clegg. Moreover, just recently, John McDonnell and David Cameron suffered ridicule for making statements which they then failed to act upon (McDonnell's U-turn on George Osbourne's fiscal charter proposal, and Cameron failure to come to a decision on Heathrow by the end of this year). There’s been no such reprimand for Iglesias (leader of Podemos), who has dropped two of his central policies: a ‘basic universal income’ and a ‘citizen's audit of Spanish public debt’. Indeed, both policies were included in his European election manifesto, but are absent from this year’s, "An economic plan for the people".


Let me just caveat that I am a big advocate of forgiveness; the central tenet of Spanish Catholicism. I think that equivocation and evolution of one’s stances based on new information is healthy for politics. 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 to generate "catalanophobia" and get votes in the rest of Spain".  


The Spanish public’s quickness to forgive a policy change, and their willingness to 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, up until now, bolstered his cause and captured the attention of the world’s media. However, he’s already been forced to renege on some of his proposals from the European election, as they were simply too fantastical. 


The fact that Iglesias and Podemos will be permitted to evolve and morph further whilst in opposition will enable them to expand their electoral base, without diluting their existing support. It’s time that they professionalised their message, and made themselves fit for government.

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