The rise and rise of a new opposition leader in Spain has given voters an alternative voice to engage with. His clear strategies and bold vision for the future may yet win them over.
Political disenchantment is rising in Spain. As Mariano Rajoy’s government continues to fumble its way from one scandal to the next, the Socialist opposition (psoe) has been busying itself with a new process of primaries to elect a fresh leadership. The result: Pedro Sánchez. Relatively unknown in Spanish politics, the 42-year-old boasts a PhD in economics, is fluent in English and French, and even knows what it’s like to be unemployed. In his first few months he has embarked on an unconventional media blitz to push an ambitious vision for Spain. He has talked to a variety of television audiences about sweeping constitutional reform, a realignment of economic policies and a dash of good old-fashioned hope.
Monocle: Why assume leadership now when the country is facing so many problems? Pedro Sánchez: Three years ago I had left politics, was lecturing at a university and working in the private sector. When faced with the opportunity to return, I asked myself the same question. The answer: my country deserves a better present and future.
M: How can you regain public confidence?
PS: One of the ways is to turn words into facts. People are tired of hearing politicians say, “When I’m in office…” This is why I’ve already implemented an ethical code for my executive and institutional representatives across Spain. Spanish politicians need to be exemplary.
M: Are you worried that voters are going to vote for [grass-roots leftist party] Podemos?
PS: People are looking for politicians that build something up, not destroy what we have accomplished over the past 35 years. It is true that we need to change a lot of things. But I would say that it is possible to effect change from within.
M: One of the consequences of Spain’s crisis is that the country has stopped talking about a common goal for the future. What are you offering?
PS: Spain has a lot of positive prospeccts: modern infrastructure and a lot of smes. It’s not a problem of resources but a lack of political will and vision. I propose a triple transition. Political: democratic regeneration and cleaning up corruption; economic: to reindustrialise our economy; and social: to address child poverty.
M: The population is showing zero tolerance towards corruption. Why haven’t Spain’s institutions and government followed suit?
PS: Our state is functioning. So is the justice system: these cases are being investigated, albeit slowly. The problem is that the entire executive has been tainted by these scandals and hasn’t responded in an exemplary way. Apart from establishing a strict code of conduct for ministers, I would like to end the revolving doors between politics and the private sector.
M: You’re the first PSOE secretary-general to be selected via open primaries. Would Spain benefit from being able to directly elect all of its MPs?
PS: We need to reform our electoral law. In the UK there are smaller constituencies but not in Spain. In Madrid my constituency is six million people. Even if I worked 24 hours, 365 days a year, it would be impossible to be in touch with every voter. We need to change that.
M: Would tackling high youth unemployment be top priority for a Sánchez government?
PS: Absolutely. Many of my own friends have emigrated due to lack of opportunities in Spain. We’re working on creating fiscal incentives for hiring skilled workers and encouraging people to come back.
M: Can you inspire voters with hope?
PS: Bill Clinton once said that pessimism doesn’t create jobs. Spain is an optimistic country and politics should mirror this optimism in a constructive way. I would like to help create a better national mood because we have a lot to be proud of. After six years of crisis, all people want is to regain confidence and a sense of optimism. This is what we need to improve with politics.