He’s very tall (1.9m), he told Mariano Rajoy he’s ‘not a decent man’ in their live TV face-off, and he didn’t wear a tie throughout the 2015 election campaign. Following a pact with his preferred coalition ally –young Albert Rivera and the PP-in-sports-casual-wear-clones, Cuidadanos – Sanchez has between now and March 5 to convince the Spanish political merry-go-round that he’s the man to lead the country. But what else do we know about the man dubbed ‘the George Clooney of the left’?
A meteoric rise: Sanchez was born in ’72 in the Madrid barrio of Tetuán, an area of marked social contrast; it’s where the rascacielos of big business peer down at some of Madrid’s less-privileged estates. His upbringing was nothing out of this world. His father was a socialist entrepreneur, his mother a social security functionary. Tall and markedly athletic compared to other politicians, he was a promising basketball player, bouncing it around for Club de Baloncesto Estudiantes until he was 21. But the political world was beckoning, and after studying Economics at Complutense – where Pablo Iglesias also got his degree - and a masters in Politics at Brussels Open University, he cut his teeth as an assessor for the European Parliament and then worked at the United Nations in Bosnia, his stint there coinciding with the Kosovo War, before joining PSOE as a member of Trinidad Jimenez’s opposition team.
2014, a leader emerges: In 2014 after heavy defeats for PSOE in European elections, his name was put forward as a candidate to replace the gruff, not-so-charismatic Alfredo Rubalcaba. The Euro fracas and the desire for a fresh direction, combined with the publication of Sánchez’s book - La Nueva Diplomacia Economica Española (which included the doctoral thesis that earned him a cum laude) was enough to propel him to the leadership.
Excerpt from said book: ‘Between 2000 and now, the Spanish public sector has changed the instruments of its economic diplomacy with the aim of reinforcing the globalization of its economic and commercial fabric.’….’It’s necessary to conceive an economic diplomacy with wider margins, to amplify the horizon of activity towards global economic governance, economic security, energy and sustainability….for political action towards economic diplomacy, to which this thesis offers a humble contribution.’
Jesus. But what about his actual opinions? On Spain’s political structure, for example? He appears to favour a federal system of government.
What would that mean? ‘A political system in which the functions of government are shared by a group of associated states who delegate to a higher central governing body.’
What else: He’s a great admirer of Bjork and he supports Atléti.
Come on, what about his position on Catalonia: His message on this point is brazen enough. ‘We don’t want Catalans to vote for a rupture, we want a pact,’ he explained recently. A federal system would certainly offer a gesture of appeasement to Catalan voters badgering for increased power. However, he rules out the idea of official referendum for an autonomous community he has never referred to as a ‘nation’ but with the agonizingly vague term, the ‘Catalan singularity.’
And Labour Reform? One of the soundbytes of Sánchez’s extremely dull electoral campaign was the promised ‘suppression’ of Rajoy’s much-criticized labour reform of 2012 - Rajoy had enabled private companies to set wages and working conditions on their own terms, and abolish severance payments for unfairly dismissed workers, a move which had the working people of the country in uproar and activists camping out in plazas all over the country.
And what does young Albert Rivera, his new novio, think about that? Reportedly, should PSOE’s pact with Cuidadanos lead to a government, Albert Rivera would oppose such a move. For all his ‘out with the old, in with the new’ claptrap, you can’t help thinking that…
What… well, that Rivera is just another clog – though younger, better-looking and better dressed - in the conservative casta.
El Abrazo: This didn’t stop Sanchez giving Rivera a lovely big hug in public to show how happy he was about their alliance. It brought to mind another famous ‘abrazo’; that of Felipe Gonzalez and Adolfo Suarez, two political opponents become allies during La Transición. The message was clear. An unlikely duo to unite the Spanish and bring to an end a turbulent period. He talked of ‘victory’ and ‘historic agreements’, of bringing about ‘a progressive government of reforms’. Sounds good, but he wouldn’t even have enough seats to get any reforms through. And he’s still far from convincing anyone just yet he’s the man to take over.
Not least, Podemos. That Sánchez’s PSOE were almost caught in the elections by the new lefties on the block (who won 69 seats), makes it no surprise Sanchez doesn’t want to share power with a direct territorial enemy. Of course he prefers the blander, more conservative Cuidadanos. In the meantime Podemos have announced they’re pissed off about PSOE getting all touchy-feely with Cuidadanos and won’t be supporting PSOE.
Oof. It’s all a bit like Big Brother. The live TV debates in particular.
And it could all still end up with Rajoy just about avoiding eviction. But in the meantime Pedro Sánchez is doing all he can to look like the statesman that Spain needs.