Spanish no-confidence vote looks set to be a weird footnote

Madrid Letter: Far-right party backs 89-year-old independent in parliamentary initiative

This week, Spain will witness a no-confidence motion brought against the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. The two-day parliamentary debate, followed by a vote on Wednesday, should be a major national event, given its potential repercussions – which in theory could include the removal of the government.

But these are far from normal times in Spanish politics and instead the motion, engineered by the far-right Vox party, looks likely to end up being a bizarre footnote in Spanish history. That is in great part because of the man fronting it. Ramón Tamames is an 89-year-old economist with a Marxist past and only the most tenuous of links to Vox.

If the no-confidence vote were somehow to succeed, which looks extremely unlikely, Tamames would replace Sánchez as prime minister, although he has said he would call a snap election if that were to happen.

“I think that, after retiring, there are people who officially live a second life which is even more interesting than the previous one,” wrote Tamames in a leaked draft of the parliamentary speech he will give ahead of the vote. “And I am one of those veterans.”


This is the second no-confidence motion Vox has brought against Sánchez. In 2020, seeking to capitalise on the economic instability and social uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it presented a motion which failed to gather support from any other parties. However, Sánchez himself has shown how effective this parliamentary mechanism can be: in 2018 he became prime minister by winning a no-confidence vote against the corruption-plagued Popular Party (PP).

Vox has not presented one specific reason for presenting this motion. Instead, it has accused Sánchez’s leftist coalition of a plethora of misdeeds. Describing it as “the worst government in history”, Vox has attacked it for allegedly dividing Spaniards, disrespecting institutions and making concessions to Catalan nationalists. The government, Vox says, “has taken on the task of destroying national unity with the worst enemies of Spain”.

Because it has already made a previous attempt to oust Sánchez during this legislature, the constitution states that Vox must look elsewhere for a candidate to front this initiative. That is where Tamames comes in.

A former politician who has been out of the public eye for decades, he appears to have taken up Vox’s offer after discussing it with the party’s leader, Santiago Abascal. But although Tamames, an independent, has shifted to the right since his days of anti-Franco activism, his political views still seem light years away from those of the party sponsoring him.

For example, he has voiced opposition to Vox’s proposals that the navy should patrol the Spanish coast to stop migrants arriving and that separatist parties should be outlawed. He has also spoken and written extensively about the dangers of climate change, something which Vox plays down or even denies.

The three rather broad concepts that Tamames has vowed to defend during the debate – parliamentary monarchy, Spain’s territorial unity and the national flag – do chime with his backers. But while Vox has described Sánchez as “a criminal” and “a sociopath”, Tamames admitted last week that “I hold the prime minister in quite high esteem.”

All of this has raises questions as to why Vox chose Tamames – and why the economist accepted.

“With this initiative, Vox has stopped being – if it ever was – a vaguely serious party,” noted conservative commentator José Antonio Zarzalejos. “It improvises, it is impulsive, disorganised, adolescent, radical and incompetent.”

Zarzalejos and other observers believe that Sánchez could end up benefiting from this week’s debate and vote, especially if, as seems likely, no other parties back the motion. As his Socialist party struggles to contain a sordid corruption scandal, a failed no-confidence motion might allow the prime minister to cast Vox – and by extension the whole of the political right – as eccentrically inept.

The leaked version of Tamames’s speech suggests it will be a lengthy attempt to diagnose Spain’s ills, from housing, healthcare, separatism and education to violence against women, drug trafficking and the sovereignty of Gibraltar. He has been granted special dispensation to speak from Abascal’s parliamentary seat, rather than the congressional lectern, in order to save his knees.

There is a feeling that this is a huge, late-life ego trip for Tamames, a freak opportunity to expound his political and economic ideas for hours on end in the national parliament, despite not being an elected representative. For those who may doubt that, the leaked speech draft ends with him saying: “I confess, ladies and gentlemen, that today’s act is for me like one of the final sequences of the script of my life.”