The new political season may end up turning the star of Spanish politics in recent years, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, into one of those shooting stars which burns brightly all of a sudden and then fades away. There are intense behind-the-scenes goings on in Spanish politics, and Ciudadanos has lost its momentum after the party opted to abstain in the no-confidence vote that toppled Rajoy, a position which weakens their anti-corruption rhetoric.
The first months of Pedro Sánchez’s government have consolidated the new Spanish leader’s position, especially after the rapprochement between the PSOE and Podemos this week to guarantee the approval of the budget. This makes it less likely that a general election will be called early.
In Catalonia, Ciudadanos is the political party which has experienced the greatest growth in recent years and it is currently the most voted party that is represented in the Parliament of Catalonia. It has managed to connect with that section of the Catalan electorate who had failed to identify with certain events in Catalan politics. Ciudadanos have managed to build on this and take advantage of their initial ideological ambiguity to reach beyond anti-Catalanism. As Jordi Muñoz explains in his X-ray of the electorate in today’s Politics section, Ciudadanos are experts in Catalan Parliamentary elections, obtaining support among both the highest and lowest income groups, where there is less associative density and —a paradox in political science— their voters appear less radical than the party leaders.
Following their undeniable electoral success in Catalonia, Rivera’s party have seen their Spain-wide prospects start to wane. Catalonia may now have turned from a springboard to an exception to their growth. Ciudadanos have realised that they have made some wrong moves and are aware that the Moncloa and certain media outlets in Madrid have made positive gestures in an attempt to lower tensions with those who favour independence. As a result, the party has decided to throw fuel on the fire, aware that their leaders feel comfortable with a strategy of rising tension, a technique they have employed for many years, in debates over language policy and education, for example. Tension on the streets with a campaign to remove yellow ribbons has failed to be the provocation it was intended to be, while Ciudadanos’ confrontation with the public media outlets was thwarted by Lídia Heredia’s professionalism and restraint [during a recent interview with Albert Rivera on Catalonia’s public broadcaster].
Ciudadanos is trying to regain the political initiative by using its leverage in Catalonia, while in Andalusia, by criticising the "breach of the agreements on democratic regeneration", it favours a snap election which harms the PP, their common enemy with Susana Díaz, [the leader of the PSOE in Andalusia].
Rivera is trying to regain the political initiative, therefore, with all the rudeness and the media impact such an approach entails. From being a party founded to oppose Catalan nationalism, Ciudadanos has become a party which defends radical Spanish nationalism while possessing little ideological influence beyond Luis Garicano’ body of liberal economic thinking. However, replacing the ambition of wanting to become the kingmaker party with aspiring to defeat the PP has led Rivera to adopt the views of the radical right. Rivera's hyper-leadership even meant that a party which sought to be liberal missed out on the opportunity to join the March 8 movement, which is substantially broader —in the wake of #MeToo— than the classic feminist movement.
A GOOD, BAD RELATIONSHIP
Ciudadanos' strategy towards the media is more aggressive than ever and the destruction of the credibility of the quality press has serious consequences for society. The example of unscrupulous political communication in the US reached its height with the 2016 elections, when Trump infiltrated and destroyed the Republican Party with the support of advisors —in fact, greedy lobbyists— such as Roger Stone, a man who has Nixon's face tattooed on his back. In order to get to the White House, it was necessary to discredit journalists who failed to behave like a propaganda mouthpiece for their political ideas and financial interests. By pointing the finger at the media, journalists and communication entrepreneurs, and encouraging boycotts against those who failed to be uncritical, they tried to intimidate, to stir up repugnant sectarianism and to put an end to the media’s only weapon: credibility.
These unorthodox practices in the US went as far as the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s electronic communications, a crime perpetrated by a hacker known as Guccifer 2.0
In the United States, embroiled in the worst political crisis since the late sixties and seventies, it seems as if the limit of much low political trickery people are prepared to take has been reached. The requirements for a reaction to take place are a free press and a minimum common denominator as to the minimum standards of behaviour among members of society, whether they be politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, teachers or shopkeepers.
In a healthy democracy, politicians and journalists needn’t be friends —quite the contrary!—, but it is necessary that they respect and mistrust each other in a civilized framework of intellectual honesty. In other words, that they respect the rules of the game.