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Íñigo Errejón: “The Movement is Like Ocean Waves, Each Arrives a Little Closer”

Íñigo Errejón

Más País leader and Spanish MP Íñigo Errejón talks to Tribune about left-wing politics after Bernie and Corbyn, the Covid-19 crisis – and how the rich use politics to divorce themselves from social responsibility.

Interview by
Brendan Boyle

The usually vibrant Madrid suddenly feels feeble, unsure of itself. It has been through a lot. In March, the city’s ice rink was converted into a makeshift morgue; home to rows of chilled bodies in wooden boxes lined side by side. Many devastated families have been unable to properly say goodbye to loved ones. Mourning has also been forced to accept a “new normal.”

Trying to come to terms with more than 30,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Spain continues to edge gingerly towards some semblance of normality. The shackles imposed one of Europe’s most sociable nations to stem the spread of Covid-19 have had a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Fears of a potential relapse and economic uncertainty continues to loom over the country. The cost of the lockdown has been steep, and Spain now faces an arduous path towards recovery. The IMF has projected an 8% slump in 2020 while unemployment looks set to hit almost 20%. 

Madrid’s wealthy elite have taken to the streets; such was their ire at having to follow the same lockdown measures as everyone else. Those at the other end of the economic ladder also took to the streets – to queue for meals and foodstuffs at foodbanks across the city. Something has to give.

Despite his wet behind the ears appearance, Iñigo Errejón has had quite the first six years in politics: a fundamental part of Podemos’ meteoric rise, he later departed from the party he helped create; and, just last year, he became leader of the new Más País party.

He speaks to journalist Brendan Boyle about politics on the left in the wake of the defeats of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, the Covid-19 crisis in Spain,


You have long been an admirer of Bernie Sanders. How did you react when he pulled out of the presidential race, and why do you think a major power such as the United States is still not ready or willing for a radical thinker like Sanders?


The fact that England and the USA – two countries which were the vanguard of the conservative revolution in the 1980s – have recently had genuine social democrats vying for power is a huge cultural advance. Let’s not forget that such advances do not usually happen in a linear way and are rarely successful at the first attempt. 

These advances tend to first be ideological and cultural, reaching a certain point, and then there is another wave that takes it a little further. The movement is like ocean waves, one arriving near the coast, another arriving a little closer. 

Of course, I was saddened and disappointed that Sanders did not get the nomination. I get the feeling that if Sanders had won the Democratic Party’s internal contest, he would have had a much better chance after beating Trump. In my opinion it is essential that the people’s message of building a society with social protection is not handed over to reactionaries.

Every political adventure has a great influence on the smaller ones. Despite Sanders’ attempt failing, the ground gained remains and this means that the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez do not have to start from zero with the next wave. 

It’s important to examine past experiences, to assess what worked and what didn’t. This is fundamental to going further with the next attempt. It is also extremely uplifting that in American politics there are subjects that 20 years ago were perhaps completely alien to the mainstream and today are part of the daily discussions.

We have seen a major advance; it has not translated into the conquest of political power just yet, but such cultural victories form the platform for great change. 


In recent weeks we have seen the protests in the upper-class Salamanca neighbourhood in Madrid as well as the traffic jam protest organised by the extreme right-wing party Vox. At the same time, we continue to see thousands of people here in Madrid queuing at foodbanks across the city. In April, Más País proposed the introduction of a Covid-19 wealth tax which aims to contribute to the huge financial burden the government has assumed during the crisis. What was your thinking behind this proposal?


We are living in a time of national emergency in Spain. We have had thousands of deaths and the fight against the virus has been gruelling. There are hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, many of whom have not yet received any sort of financial aid. Many small businesses have closed, and we are in a period of severe economic contraction. To tackle the impact of Covid-19 the government has committed to huge costs, and we have to decide who is going to pay for these measures. 

The traditional practice of the Socialist Party here has revolved around doing politics without economic transformation. But we are not Germany. We can only pay for such costs through the redistribution of wealth – in Spain socialist politics without economic transformation is now impossible. 

There are two options to cover these costs. First, they could be paid for by the Spanish people in the form of cuts. Right now, because everyone is afraid of Covid-19, this idea hasn’t yet been discussed, but we know that the privileged will eventually appear and demand these cuts. 

The second option involves evening out the fiscal imbalance, which right now is extremely uneven. Today, the greatest weight of the tax burden is carried by the middle class while those with large companies and those with substantial wealth continue to pay less and less.

People say that if large companies pay less and less, more will come to invest in Spain. But we have seen that isn’t the case. We have seen Nissan preparing to leave Barcelona and move to France, not because the tax system is better, but because there is more state aid, better infrastructure, cheaper energy, and so on.

We are still a country that depends heavily on tourism, hotels and restaurants, industries which inherently have low salaries and little stability. To change this, we need an entrepreneurial state, which can develop the knowledge economy and green energies as well as promoting and facilitating diversification. 

For this to happen the state needs resources and to have resources national solidarity is a must. We have proposed an increase in taxes for those who earn more than €100,000, another for those who earn over €600,000 a year – 1.7% of the Spanish population – and another for those who whose wealth exceeds €1 million.

The right-wing have always responded to such proposals claiming that we are raising taxes on the middle class. I personally don’t have a million euros in my account, surely you don’t either, nor does anyone I know. Those who do have such wealth have the right to have it, but this is a time for national solidarity and these people must contribute a little more so that we can move forward together.

We have recently seen a protest movement in Madrid that started in the richest neighbourhoods. We have seen protests against left-wing governments before but there is a new aspect to all this. 

The pandemic has forced us to take collective measures such as confinement, measures that apply to everyone equally. There is a part of the Madrid oligarchy that feels like they are not just anyone. They say: “Listen, you cannot apply the same rule to me as the rest.” The rich throughout Europe and in Spain have been gaining independence from their countries for years. Many do not have current accounts in their countries; they do not comply with the regulations of their countries; they live in more isolated communities and neighbourhoods; they bring their children to schools that are more and more difficult to enter. 

The rich are essentially in a process of secession. In Spain there is a lot of discussion about Catalan independence, but those who have become independent are the rich; they live as if they were from a small country within Spain. Instead of getting into an argument with them, we should instead move forward. We have to move forward with measures that show solidarity with the Spanish state, to redistribute wealth, and while the right-wing is protesting, we should be less concerned about the protests in the rich neighbourhoods and more concerned about the queues at the food banks across the country.


What is your view of the “crisis generation,” the first generation in living memory to be worse off than its parents? Before Covid-19, 18% of Spaniards between the age of 16-29 were able to find the means to move out of home. It is now highly likely that this generation will suffer a second economic crisis in a decade. Many will never own a house; many will not be able to afford to have children. What can the Spanish government do to give this generation hope?


Very little is going to change in the Spanish social model if we do not address the problem of housing and real estate. 

Today in Spain, the real estate model is a black hole that devours a huge amount of resources. In Madrid people on average are spending close to 40% of their salary on rent. For many people here, this is for a bedroom in a shared apartment. 

The real estate model uses up a large amount Spanish economic resources because a considerable part of this private investment goes into a real estate model that yields short-term profitability but does not generate jobs or contribute to the economic well-being of the country. 

We have seen how, in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona, a good part of the market belongs to international financial funds that do not pay taxes or generate jobs here. They simply buy a property and rent it to tourists through AirBnB.

We won’t see real welfare in Spain in the 21st century unless we tackle the problem of housing. Our constitution recognises the right to housing but it is obvious that it is not being fulfilled. We need a large stock of public housing as well as a maximum price, as we have seen with water and energy. 

Moreover, we need to have tougher inspections of tourist properties and a policy that prevents a situation whereby we have proprietors with 30 empty flats in the centre of Valencia or Seville.


You have many years in politics ahead but, up to now, what has been your happiest point, or the moment where you felt “I am doing something important here”?


There are a lot of very small moments that fill you with hope and excitement. I remember once I was at a rally in Valladolid, which I left late and was about to miss my train. I was running on the platform and one of the train workers delayed the train when he saw me running. When I got on, he said to me “Come on kid, keep it going! Thanks for what you’re doing.”

I have been in professional politics for six years now, and there has been many difficult and painful moments, but also many beautiful moments. There are anonymous people who thank you and encourage you to keep fighting. That’s why we must always remember why we are here.

There are many people who are afraid to say what they think in their work; those who do not have a voice; those who feel neglected and alone; and those who feel left behind. Being the voice of these people is why we enter politics in the first place. 


At a time when hatred from social networks continues to suffocate the political scene in Spain and beyond, there seems little reason for optimism. What is it that gives you hope about the future that motivates you to keep fighting day after day?


Social networks are not real life; they are a part of reality. Social media is a pool of hatred, stupidity, superficiality and confrontation. Real life is to be found outside. I find that people are not that bad. Twitter is like a traffic jam: in a traffic jam, everybody is an asshole. Everyone is insulting, impatient and unsympathetic.

But when you walk around you realise people are not like that – of course, there are some who are. The street in Madrid where I live has been an example of this during the pandemic. Just like other streets across the city and country, we have come out to applaud the healthcare workers at 8pm, and a kind of community has developed between neighbours.

We decided that we would decorate the street together, connecting balconies with bunting, playing music, helping our elderly neighbours who were unable to go to the supermarket to buy groceries – doing what we can to lend a hand. 

The Spanish public has generally reacted with a huge amount of solidarity during this crisis. The country has reacted as a collective, not as a group of individuals who go their own way. This is a spirit with which you can achieve great things. 

I am not a leftist because I want victory for the left. I am a leftist because I want victory for the people, because I want to build an electorate that has sovereignty and that can decide its future freely, sustainably, and peacefully. 

How Spain has reacted is beautiful and this is the path forward. It shows that we are a community and we take care of each other; there is a spirit that, even though we don’t know each other, we are going to take care of each other and get out of this together. 

For me it is an idea that has a lot of room to grow and that allows us to think about how to move forward. The crisis and its management has set conditions that can facilitate a socialist response. We must take advantage of them quickly. The time to act is now.

About the Author

Íñigo Errejón is a member of the Spanish parliament and leader of Más País.

About the Interviewer

Brendan Boyle is an Irish journalist based in Madrid. His work has featured in Jacobin, The Local and Football España.