Jim Lawley

How Spain’s politics succumbed to radicalism

(Photo: Getty)

If Spain’s left-wing government loses tomorrow’s general election, thousands of people including many senior civil servants stand to lose their jobs. Their positions are discretionary; if the political masters change, so do the personnel.

When the left took office in 2018, for example, an estimated 6,000 public servants were fired, including several hundred advisers. The incoming Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also put trusted supporters in charge of the state-run broadcasting company, the Paradors (a chain of state-owned hotels) and the social research organisation that organises opinion polls. Not surprisingly, its polls have been biased to the left ever since.

Both right and left suggest that their opponents are not merely wrong but illegitimate, beyond the democratic pale

This ‘jobs for the boys’ approach is even worse inside the political parties. Across the spectrum, Spanish parties are highly disciplined, top-down organisations; intolerant of dissent, the party leaders fill posts with ‘yes men’. It’s a system that fosters unquestioning obedience, groupthink and dogmatism.

It’s no surprise, then, that there is also little tolerance for the ideas of other parties. Instead, debate is littered with put-downs and name-calling. William Chislett of the Elcano Royal Institute, an international affairs think-tank in Madrid, describes the prevailing culture as ‘particularly toxic… especially the political bellowing about ‘reds’ and ‘fascists’, reviving the language of the 1936-39 Civil War’.

In televised discussions two or three rival pundits often talk over each other. Listening carefully to an opposing opinion is regarded as a sign of weakness – an indication that it might be right. Ensuring your opponents can’t be heard turns out to be a simple and effective form of censorship.

So is suggesting that they have no place in a democracy. In this campaign the right has constantly demonised the left-wing coalition for relying on the votes of democratically elected Basque and Catalan separatists – ‘the enemies of Spain’.

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