Tuesday, February 02, 2016

PSOE And The Puppet Masters

"Podemos is not advocating a government of coalition but a coalition of government." These were the words of the PSOE president of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernández-Vara, speaking at the party's federal committee at the weekend. They might sound like gobbledegook but their meaning was clear. A government of coalition means a government in which individual parties' agendas are subordinate to the will of the government as a whole. A coalition of government refers to individual parties having their separate responsibilities and agendas. There is not the same collective will or anything approaching it.

Vara went onto to say that under a PSOE government arrangement with Podemos, the party (his party) would be judged by what it does and what it is responsible for, while Podemos would be judged on what it does and its responsibilities. The semantics of his message might seem confusing, but what he was driving at was the potential to create what would be parallel governments. There may, ostensibly, be a coalition, but its paths would diverge, with one signposted PSOE, the other Podemos (together with its associates and, in all likelihood, the IU - United Left).

The Extremadura president is far from being alone in opposing any governmental tie-up with Podemos. PSOE leaders might want a government of the left, but it depends on what style of left. Javier Fernández, the president of Asturias, has branded Podemos bullies. Miquel Iceta, the secretary-general of PSOE in Catalonia (known as PSC), has spoken of Pablo Iglesias wishing to humiliate him. The bullies and the humiliation are things that PSOE should already be aware of: its members need only take a look at the Balearics.

The Vara argument is of course disputed by the present voguishness for everything apparently being agreed through dialogue and consensus, with component parts of pacts walking hand-in-hand in harmonious accord. This is fictitious dissembling. Had Francina Armengol's PSOE in the Balearics been in a position to, it would have repelled any half-thought of a pact involving Podemos. Why? Because of its disruptive capacity as much as any policies. Biel Barceló's Més on its own would have received houseroom in just the same way as one of the Més elements, the PSM Mallorcan socialists, had been by Francesc Antich. Left to their twosome devices, the dialogue and consensus spin might have some credibility. The ménage à trois leaves it incredible.

Yet even with Més, Armengol has been forced into giving up areas of responsibility. Tourism is most certainly one. It is now hypothetical what might have happened had PSOE been in a stronger position, but it was well known that PSOE had not been wholehearted in wishing there to be a tourist tax. This is a Més measure (with Podemos's full backing). The words of Armengol, her government spokesperson, Marc Pons, and her finance minister, Catalina Cladera - each of them from PSOE - in now supporting it are shallow.

The Balearic model of government is precisely what Vara was alluding to. The notion of consensus has the feeling of a sham, one perpetrated by Armengol and others as a means of justification for a government which could unravel under the tensions it has brought upon itself. Podemos, not even actually in the government (though it may reconsider this, with all the complications this would cause for responsibilities), has made play of the fact that it is now - based on general election results - the second force in the Balearics (behind the most-voted-for party, the PP). Armengol and PSOE were forced into having to accept an arrangement with Podemos, which has subsequently drawn greater strength from the national election. And with this force and strength, there is humiliation. The PP's accusations of Armengol being a Podemos puppet cut to the bone, and it is this that certain PSOE leaders want to avoid at all costs for national government.

Moreover, they want to avoid acceding to Podemos demands for control of, for example, defence and the economy. They most certainly want to avoid any referendum on Catalonia. Armengol seeks to soothe their nerves by saying that all is working well in government with nationalists. But which nationalists? Més has a nationalist agenda (for both the Balearics and Catalonia), but Més is irrelevant in the national government context: Podemos isn't.

Podemos backs a referendum but not because it is nationalist. It promotes the will of the people in deciding, to an extent that it can be described as anti-nationalist, which might be said to include Spain. This is its own spin. Podemos may be able to keep it up. It may even be sincere. But even allowing for a veneer of the popular will, there are precedents for subordinating the state to party interests, those of Podemos. You don't need me to tell you which ones. There are plenty in PSOE who will never forgive Sánchez if he prostrates himself in front of Podemos.

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