Who Is: Iñigo Errejón
Pablo Iglesias is the iconic face of Podemos, his ponytail and goatee, instantly recognizable to any Spaniard. But Iñigo Errejon is its busy little idea engine. The son of a Spanish Worker's Party member, the campaign strategist is unmistakably of the Podemos 'casta'; prodigiously young (only 32 at time of writing), and a refreshingly plain-talking academic with a background in social activism.
As a student working on his doctorate in political sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, he was busy protesting against G8 summits and the Iraq War, while in 2006 he would found the student anti-capitalist platform Contrapoder, which invited prominent left-wing political figures from around the world to give talks in Madrid. After years working as a political researcher and publishing essays on Latin American politics for various universities, in 2014, he was invited by his long-time companion Iglesias to lead the nascent Podemos's electoral campaign.
Following a joining of forces with Izquierda Unida, his Unidos Podemos party now stand on the brink of an historic achievement in Spanish politics. Having won 20% of the vote in the December election, they could be about to replace PSOE as Spain's opposition party in the second round of votes on 26-J. There's even a dramatic possibility that, if they get enough votes, they could form a coalition government with PSOE.
That Errejón has had to dream up Podemos's election campaign almost on the march, makes this achievement even more spectacular.
The Podemos number two is in 'electoral war machine' mode, his own phrase for the struggle to win over the electorate. Podemos, as a real threat to the current political order, find themselves the object of increasingly desperate smear tactics. The media is where the war is won or lost. That is why, according to Errejón, 'we do politics inside the TV sets and newspapers. They're far more important than parliament.' Social media as well. Nowhere is the battle for information more intense. Or abstract.
To understand Errejón you must understand Laclau - an Argentine political scientist, author of La Razon Populista - and his notion of the 'empty signifier'. The signifier without a signified. Messages which adapt to the people according to the moment and context. This is ideological transcendence; a rejection of recognized dividers such as 'marxist', 'fascist', 'left' or 'right'. Instead the Podemos principle takes components and builds a transversal manifesto. It takes on board the model of the Danish welfare system, but rejects the tag of nordic social-democratism. It admires the hyper-leadership embodied by Chavez, but rejects being populist or Chavezian. Therefore, by being radical in its use of language ('castes', 'hegemonies' etc.) and plural in its democratic ideal, Podemos has managed to force its way into the public consciousness with a kind of flat-pack approach to government. The idea of the government assembled by the pueblo is an idea that Errejón wittily referred to in the design of the Podemos election leaflet, which is based on an Ikea catalogue and features important party figures photographed performing various domestic tasks.
Errejón is often labelled a populista. A tag, which, predictably, he rejects. The political scientist Daniele Albertazzi defines populism as an ideology 'that pits a virtuous and homogenous people against a set of elites and dangerous others who are depicted as depriving the sovereign people of their rights, values, prospeperity, identity and voice.' It sounds like Podemos. Errejón has no problem with the definition, rather with the term itself. He is all too aware of its connotations. In a Spain wary of any people's movement which threatens the established elite, and particularly concerned by examples of the rise of populist left-wing politics in Latin American states, 'populism' is not only an accusation, but an insult. It's a term which breeds paranoia and fear. In every interview he grants to the media, Errejón deals with the same cloying questions over and over again, designed to log into that paranoia and fear in the public mind. If he's a populista. What separates Podemos from Communism. What he thinks of the situation in Venezuela.
Latin America. Marxism. Revolution. Chaos.
The Latin American link. Iglesias's repeated visits to Venezuela, Errejón's subscription to the principles of Ernesto Laclau and description of the Podemos ideology as 'peronista.' An expressed admiration for figures such as Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa.
It's all easy fuel for the 'hegemonia' they are fighting. The mainstream media, scaffolded and controlled by the elite, make hay of it all, playing on the electorate's fears. The message, throughout the elections, has been simple and clear: Podemos harbour links with radical/unstable/anti-democratic/Marxist regimes and therefore represent a threat to our political and economic stability.
Errejón, armed with his copy of Ernesto Laclau's La Razon Populista, was already steeled for this. He told his staff at the beginning of the elections: 'Think about everything you've ever said, done, sung or shourted, as if it's all going to come out. And don't think in legal terms. It doesn't matter if you're guilty. There's only one thing worse than being guilty and that's looking guilty.'
There's only one thing worse than being guilty and that's looking guilty. It was at the heart of the unedifying comments this week by the PP's Javier Maroto, in reply to Errejón's message of solidarity to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings.
'In agreement with defence of LGBT liberty,' tapped Maroto. 'But you're still financed by Iranian Islamism while gays are hung on cranes.'
That Maroto, a PP vice-secretary, was 'sacando tajada electoral' (ie. taking advantage in the most abysmally opportunistic and deplorable manner), is something Errejón has become used to. Though the statement was widely criticized on Twitter, the seed of an idea remains in the electorate's mind. The possibility of a dark bridge between Iran - stigmatized as a theocratic regime which sponsors terrorism and represents a threat to Western neoliberalist democracy - and Podemos.
The basis of this tenuous idea linking Iran and Podemos? Fort Apache, a television programme of cult status which Podemos figures used for political debate, was sponsored by an Iranian magnate, Mahmoud Alizadeh, with links to the Teheran regime. El Mundo, a staple news feed for the centre-right, claimed that the HispanTV network which Alizadeh used to broadcast Iglesias's programme, was an attempt by Teheran to gain a foothold in European opinion and counter Western propaganda. It was also claimed Iran's government injected €2 million into Podemos's election campaign.
About such attacks in the media Errejón remains philosophical and resolute. 'They've said such an array of barbarities about us, often totally contradictory, that it simply shows the intellectual exhaustion of those that govern.'
Could the Spanish political establishment be about to change? Errejón believes so. 'In (the upcoming elections) there are two projects for this country. PP's and our own. If PP win a majority, they'll do what we expect of them, having hidden the scissors from view during the campaign, they'll start carry on with their cuts, maintain impunity for cases of corruption and be soft on those above.'
'The alternative would be us creating a government for change... in that government of change the Socialist party (as a coalitition ally) would have to act as a referee, and together we would have to be capable of overturning all their unjust, inefficient policies.'
It's been a voyage of discovery for Errejón, from academia to the corridors of power.