Motions of Censure – Notes from Spain | Edward Anderson


52 in favour, 298 against and the circus was over for at least one more session, with the only history being made in this motion of censure was it was the worst defeat for a motion ever. Surpassing the worst previously being the Alianza Popular (the forerunners of the modern Popular Party) failed motion against PSOE of 67 in favour and 195 against.

To bring you up to speed, a Moción de censura is a ‘constructive’ vote of no confidence in the Spanish congress, laid down by the Spanish Constitution. In essence, it is not enough to say the Government is dire, you need to offer a real alternative. The aim is to avoid precisely what we saw in Spain last week where the event becomes a glorified stunt.

That is not to say of course that the mocións de censura we have seen in Spain before have been without their moments of high drama. Before last week, Spain had seen four mocións since the mechanism was enabled, with two holding profound political consequences.

Two largely superficial mocións in the middle are bookended by two of great importance. The first, where PSOE would challenge the late great Adolfo Suárez and his embattled Unión de Centro Democrático in 1980. Adolfo would hold on but this represented a watershed moment in the post transition era as up until this point, both sides had largely worked together with no outright opposition, to ensure the success of the transition. After this moment, Spain entered the combative political era as UCD would survive but only holding on due to the abstentions of several smaller political parties.

Crucially, it would also contribute to the destabilisation of the transition, acting as one of the first chains that would lead to the unsuccessful coup of F-21 1981, binding the country to a democratic path.

The second of note, between the 31st May and 1st June 2018, will go down in history as the first successful use of a censure. After the continuing corruption scandals within the governing party were played out in front of the Spanish courts, Sanchez moved to strike and the great survivor of Spanish politics in Mariano Rajoy tried to scramble enough votes to cling on.

However, on knowing the gig was up, he did something that will go down in Spanish folklore. He decided he had heard enough and, instead of listening to his fate in front of the cameras, he went to the Arahy restaurant in Madrid with some close confidantes, drinking and eating his way through the next several hours.

He would emerge bleary eyed and well fed many hours later, much to the disbelief of the press who had found out. His final act would be to head back to Congress for the inevitable result, shake the hand of Pedro Sanchez and depart Spain’s political scene for good.

Returning to the present day, they would be no such scenes and the result was already a foregone conclusion. I thought it would be a difficult act for Sanchez, as carping on about the wonderful state of Spain wasn’t really an option. In reality, events would show the real challenge lies on the centre right.

After Sanchez had spoken in the morning before not returning (presumably the image of Abascal talking in an increasingly empty chamber suited PSOE), the second half of the first day was a procession of the little parties and due to the fragmented nature of the Congress they all had a chance, one by one to denounce Vox. For Vox’s centralisation, lack of programme and cult around one man, Santiago Abascal.

Although this may have made the speakers feel better to denounce him, it gave Abascal time to talk about each region and essentially becoming a long advert for Vox. Attacking some, polite to others including a very respectful comment to Tomás Guitarte (probably because, as Abascal would note himself, the campaign by Teruel Existe has sympathy across the whole of Spain.) Then Abascal went into overdrive, when he proceeded to reply to a statement from the Bildhu speaker (Basque Separatists) by simply reading out the list of every victim of ETA, with over 800 read out over 30 minutes to a silent chamber.

It was a great example of how the event has been corrupted for modern media. The actual discussion did not really take place, no side really considered this a serious debate about the Government, it was clear that PSOE and Sanchez were a sideshow. Each side had chopped up the debate into their tweetable clips within moments of them being made. It is the politics of viral videos, with every side harvesting their clicks.

Of more interest in fact was not the sparring between Sanchez or even the separatists, but Abascal and the struggling leader of PP in Pablo Cansado. After effectively denouncing Vox and Abascal in his speech against the vote, many stated this was the decisive break that Cansado needed with Vox to reach other voters. The problem with this of course, as Abascal was to remind Cansado, was that right now many regional PP Governments (including Madrid where PP celebrated so gleefully in May 2019) exist solely due to support of Vox. If Cansado wants to cleanly break with Vox, it will mean risking the collapse of all of the major regional wins he can claim any credit for. It might be a good long-term bet for PP but it could cost Cansado his job.

So, what were the great movements in public opinion? Well, none really. Vox creeped up a bit but it is largely as you were and now that PSOE have announced the intention to bring in a six-month state of emergency, the events of this motion have already largely been forgotten. When we look back in a few years, we might see this as the moment that PP and Vox openly started the battle for domination of the right wing in Spanish politics but for now, it’s the cheapening of another convention for the sake of a screeching American style of politics. Spain’s moción de censura, when used correctly, has a vital and historically important role in being used to facilitate a constructive challenge to the Government or offer a clean break for the nation. It’s a worrying development for Spanish politics if this impact is lost for the sake of a few retweets.


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