Juan Espadas (Seville, 55 years old) has inherited the largest socialist federation in Spain, with 37 years of Government behind him and three in the opposition. But an Andalusian PSOE is about to reinvent itself from scratch, which reaches the next elections without the “inheritance received”, that backpack of stones that President Juan Manuel Moreno carries to immobilize all his political action. “A political party is not an acronym: people change, the project changes,” explain socialist sources close to the secretary general, sure that they have finally found the key.
Swords assumes that the Andalusian Government will exhaust the legislature and changes the pace: “If there are no more things to do, do not force”
The Andalusian PSOE lacked a political story about the Andalusian PSOE. A speech without complexes to refute the hammer blows of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox that have silenced their opposition work in this legislature. “What are you going to promise in the next elections that you haven’t already promised? Why didn’t you do it during the almost four decades that you governed Andalusia? You have no credibility to criticize health management, because you left it shattered after 37 years of government”, they have been listening since December 2018.
The magic formula is this: “The parties are governed by the people. And this socialist political project, with its proposals and priorities, has nothing to do with that of its predecessors,” argues the new executive. This path -which in Freudian terms is known as kill the father– leads inevitably towards self-criticism, self-expiation and catharsis. Espadas explained it to his own: “Let me show that this Andalusian PSOE is not the same as always, like Pedro Sánchez’s is not Zapatero’s.”
bugs and weaknesses
The “new” Andalusian PSOE has been “under construction” for 10 months, since the former mayor of Seville succeeded Susana Díaz as head of the general secretariat. His new executive, with 60 members, is full of mayors and collaborators inherited from his time in the Seville City Council. It has also inherited the Susanistas in the parliamentary group, many of them members of the last Diaz Executive. In this “reconstruction” of the party, a coordinated workforce is not yet perceived.
The new leaders run a lot, and alone, pressed by the risk of an early election; the old leaders hardly move, because they are in retreat. The new and the old are mixed in a parliamentary group of 33 deputies who, in these three years, “has made a very Light“, allowing the Government of PP and Citizens to consolidate “with hardly any project or legislative agenda”.
The new leadership of the PSOE has begun to distance itself from “the mistakes” that its predecessors made and for which they lost power. “Moreno is a mediocre leader. If it is taken for granted that he is going to win, I attribute it to our weakness, not to the merit of our adversary,” says a member of the executive. Swords has begun to remove stones from that backpack inherited from his predecessors. “We have governed 37 years, with better legislatures, in which we got to approve 45 laws, and with worse ones.”
The critical revisionism of the Swords team covers the last 13 years, since the financial crisis of 2008, when socialists undertook the biggest cuts to public services -health, education, etc- pushed by the fiscal containment policies imposed by Brussels and the Executive by Mariano Rajoy. The amendment to the past made by the new leader of the Andalusian PSOE is not limited to the last three years of the Government of Susana Díaz – “when we counted those who demonstrated in the streets for our health management and we said that there were not so many” -; nor to the three of “light opposition” to the Moreno Executive.
“In the first 20 years of government, the PSOE won without getting off the bus. In the last ten years, the financial and management crisis has made us worse,” recall the socialist sources consulted, citing “all cases” [de corrupción] that splashed Executives of Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán. “The last years of the PSOE have not been the best in political initiative,” they conclude in reference to the stage of Díaz.
The political life of Juan Espadas is linked to the Andalusian Administration, of which he became a Housing Minister between 2008 and 2010, in the transition from the governments of Chaves to Griñán. The federal leadership of the PSOE removed him from the Mayor’s Office of Seville, the most important that governs the socialists in Spain, to precipitate the departure of Susana Díaz. With Swords, the Andalusian federation has recovered harmony with Pedro Sánchez’s team after the convulsive years of susanismo: “Defending the management of the Government of Spain in Andalusia gives me votes,” he says. But it also carries the vitola of being a branch of sanchismo.
The former mayor fits that criticism badly; he often verbalizes that he is the leader of the Andalusian PSOE and that he has political autonomy to disagree, if necessary, with the federal leadership. He has recently demonstrated this by defending the controversial abstention of his group from a legislative initiative of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox to amnesty illegal wells next to Doñana. Against the criteria of the central government, UNESCO, the European Commission and a notable part of his own parliamentary group.
Probably the most critical moment of his administration, the most discussed, which has forced him to give convoluted and urgent explanations to a proposal that is not his, but rather that of the parties that support the Moreno government. It has not been well understood. In his team they turn the page and assure that “it will be chained” if the Andalusian Government insists on getting us into a mess with Brussels due to the conservation risk in Doñana.
The reform of the autonomous financing model, expired since 2013, is another front of claim to the Government of Sánchez that Swords and Moreno share. A proposal came out of the Andalusian Parliament, designed by the Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero, which today constitutes a key political tool. The Socialists assume that the need to change the financing system “is a clamor and it goes very slowly.” “We cannot make a commitment to an efficient health model until we have a good financing model. And the same thing happens with public education. Structural budgets are needed,” they warn from the regional direction.
A “little ant” campaign
Juan Espadas is a serious politician, with the rictus of a bureaucrat who eats mountains of official documents for breakfast, but suddenly he starts talking about martial arts. “In martial arts you have to define your adversary’s weaknesses in order to fight him,” his party colleagues quote him, about what the strategy of the Andalusian PSOE will be in the next regional elections. The internal crisis of the PP has just given the Socialists “two extensions to the party”.
President Moreno seems inclined to exhaust the legislature -the deadline for the polls is November 27-, and Espadas has decided to take advantage of these “extra months” to outline a less frenetic strategy than they had planned. More in keeping with his temperament: “A campaign of little ants, from day to day”, of treading the territory and doing a lot of pedagogy, of “focusing on the micro”, on speaking with citizens and with social groups more than with journalists warn socialist sources.
Swords has its own biorhythm, out of step with the speed of time, and explains to his followers what lessons can be learned from martial arts for politics: “You have to look for the opponent’s weaknesses, not attack their strengths.” In the Andalusian PSOE they believe that Moreno Bonilla’s strength is “his moderate profile of him”, which has helped dispel old fears that the right wing governs in Andalusia. “And his weakness is management” in these three years of government.
“He wants to identify himself above good and evil so that his management balance is not talked about, but we have a PP government that has not yet gelled a leader who is not frowned upon. We are going to try to show that Moreno is not a good manager, and that Andalusia does not need a president whose balance is that he has not done so badly”, explain sources close to the socialist general secretary.
The new socialist leader wants to make a stronger opposition than the one that has been made in the last three years, but an opposition to the use: the spearhead is the harsh and constant criticism of the “collapse” of public health, aggravated during the pandemic, and that has resulted in a diversion of patients to the private sector, fleeing from the lack of primary care doctors, the delay in diagnostic tests and the postponement of operations.
Last weekend they aligned themselves with the CCOO and UGT unions in the protests for the deterioration of health, which brought together 75,000 people, according to the organizers; about 19,000 according to the Police. On March 4, it will support the concentration organized by businessmen from Huelva to demand hydraulic infrastructures from the central government, a derivative of the mess of illegal wells in Doñana.
Criticism of management vs ideological battles
Swords wants to enter the campaign making government proposals and questioning Moreno’s management. He renounces fighting ideological battles, emphasizing the fear of the extreme right, because “it has not worked for the PSOE” in recent electoral processes, such as in Madrid or Castilla y León. “The debate is ideologically polarized. It is Sánchez against the rest of the world, and that has permeated,” explain socialist sources, who rule out that the new leader will enter “in the mental framework of the right.” “If he did, they would tell him that he is campaigning for fear of Vox. Those campaigns have been unsuccessful [en otros territorios]. We are not winning that debate, we have to set our discourse in the territory. The next Andalusian Government will be decided by the fringe of the center voter. Raising the elections of the left against the right is a strategic error,” they say.
In the electoral campaign of the Socialists, the mayors and councilors, who govern 65% of the municipalities of Andalusia, are playing a fundamental role. Swords has placed in them the hope of mobilizing the 700,000 left-wing voters who stayed home in 2018 -400,000 from the PSOE and 300,000 from Adelante Andalucía-. The general secretary of the PSOE has another model of government for Andalusia, he wants to delegate power to the town councils and councils, create a conference of mayors and presidents of provincial councils who meet with the president of the Board every so often to test the needs of its territory. “He wants to make a change of model after 40 years. He is thinking about the Andalusia of 2030”, says a close person.
Time continues to play against him, no matter how much the internal collapse of the PP has delayed the legislature until the end of the year. “We have renewed the PSOE in the eight provinces, but we need more time for the entire party structure to recognize and internalize the new project,” they admit.