The “Drama” of VOX (and its Prompters)

VOX is a Spanish political party founded in 2013 by former members of the conservative PP (Popular Party). A member of The European Conservatives and Reformists Group, a center right political group of the European Parliament, VOX is committed to NATO and the EU, but is classified as populist and far-right by its opponents and enemies.

Every summer, as is well known, has its informative “silly season.” The one of this summer of 2023 is undoubtedly VOX: the crisis of VOX, the disappearance of VOX, the demolition of VOX, the annihilation of VOX or even the apocalypse of VOX, which in terms of nouns, when it comes to summer silly seasons, none are superfluous. Let’s just call it the drama of VOX. And as in every drama, hidden in the prompt corner of the stage, we discover the prompter. In this case, a veritable crowd of prompters.

The sudden convergence of “everyone against VOX” is very evidently part of strategies designed from outside the party in question, but it is true that VOX has become a problem. For the enemies, because the bug refuses to die, and for the friends, or for those who once were friends, because VOX has turned out to be something different from what they once thought it was. Between the pressure from one and the other, VOX may end up becoming a problem even for its own voters. In this way, VOX would end up in the sad list of parties that could have been and were not, such as UPyD, Ciudadanos and soon, hopefully, Podemos. In the end, the function of VOX, like that of the previous ones, would have been none other than to temporarily correct the inadequacies of the two-party system. Some people are already selling the bear’s skin before it is hunted (counting the chickens before they are hatched). It is not surprising that the sellers (the prompters of our drama) have their bazaar in the media factories of the “right-wing” opinion. Another thing is that there really is merchandise to put on sale.

When Everyone Discovered “Their” VOX

That the left attacks VOX is entirely natural: the Spanish left has never had such a tough enemy before. The attacks coming from the other side deserve more attention: why has the press, conventionally called “right-wing” (that is to say, the one that is not on the left), broken away to sell the offal of VOX? This is a particularly interesting issue, and on which what follows will focus.

First of all, it is worth recalling something. When VOX made its big leap, in the 2018 Andalusian elections, we were able to witness a portentous spectacle: dozens of right-wing (and center) opinionators turned to Santiago Abascal’s party, which they had generally ignored or despised in previous years, and opened the doors of the mainstream media for him. Not only did they open them, but they spread red carpets for VOX to enter, and adorned Abascal’s temples with laurels; and if they did not send Canephorae to offer him myrtle and acanthus, it was simply because nobody remembers who Ruben was anymore. In that spectacular reception there was, however, something disturbing: the VOX that the manufacturers of right-wing opinion were discovering was not VOX itself, but “their” VOX; that is to say, what everyone wanted to see in the phenomenon of the moment. It is necessary to understand this—that we were coming out of the frosts of the Rajoy septennium (2011-2018), hodgepodge of all the disappointments, and everybody was looking for a new hope. That is why everyone saw in VOX what they wanted to see.

Liberals wanted to see a party that, at last, openly proposed a model of restriction of public spending and low taxes after Rajoy’s social-democratic betrayal. Christians wanted to see a party that dared to raise, without qualms, issues such as the right to life (i.e., the limitation of abortion) or full freedom of education. Conservatives wanted to see the party that was really going to stand up to the social and cultural hegemony of the left. The self-styled “constitutionalists” wanted to see an incorruptible defender of linguistic freedoms, national unity and the equality of all before the law, in the face of the continuous separatist blackmail. The identitarians wanted to see the party that for the first time dared to denounce the ravages of illegal immigration. The patriots wanted to see the party that was going to put national interests ahead of the demands of Brussels. Everyone, in short, wanted to see in VOX the party that was going to represent them precisely where no one, neither on the right nor on the left, could do so already. Even more—for many, the appearance of VOX was supposed to force the People’s Party (PP) to return to being a “right-wing” party.

It is true that VOX has been, to a greater or lesser extent, all those things. However, it was not fully any of them, nor did it want to be. VOX was born to respond to some very specific realities; but political reality is dynamic, never static. On the other hand, this reality, so to speak, is made up of different but interconnected spheres (economic, social, institutional, etc.) that rarely admit a univocal interpretation. In other words, one can be more or less liberal in economic matters, more or less conservative in cultural matters, more or less Christian in social matters and more or less sovereigntist in State policy— and the result need not be contradictory, but it would inevitably leave unsatisfied those who sought a solely liberal or solely Christian response, for example.

The Frustrated Expectation: It Turns Out that VOX had a Life of its Own

In part—and only in part—what is happening right now around VOX has a lot to do with this frustration of expectations. It turns out that VOX had a life of its own. Liberals have begun to feel uncomfortable with a party that, as a patriotic party, criticizes globalist ideology, as an identitarian party, criticizes mass immigration, and as a Christian party, criticizes abortion and LGTB ideology. Christians have begun to feel uncomfortable with a party that, as patriotic, dissents from episcopal laxity towards illegal immigration and, as conservative, insists on fighting battles from which the Church has already retreated. Conservatives have begun to feel uncomfortable with a party that, because it is identitarian and patriotic, shuns the consensus of the system, does not slobber all over Brussels, is little given to exercises of moderation, is excessively open to the popular classes and climbs up on tractors. The “constitutionalists” (always self-described) are beginning to feel uncomfortable with a party that puts the nation ahead of the Constitution. The identitarians are beginning to feel uncomfortable with a party that is too open to immigration of Latin American origin. And even the patriots, they too, feel uncomfortable with a party whose foreign policy coincides with NATO. So, suddenly, a lot of people seem to have discovered that VOX is not what they thought it was. So, the erstwhile reed-pipes have started to turn into spears (or knives).

Apart from personal issues and petty squabbles, all these reservations, all these “discomforts” must be taken with the utmost seriousness, because they are part of the political reality of our time, and in a very particular way, in the sphere of what is known as “the right wing.” Moreover, the exercise allows us to understand what a movement like VOX can paint in the current landscape.

The conventional right and left, in Spain as elsewhere, are formations that respond to a vision of reality still inherited from the 20th century: liberalism versus socialism, Atlanticism versus sovietism, Christianity versus nihilism, Constitution versus separatism, etc. This mental framework still persists today because it is comfortable and, moreover, guarantees the survival of the main stakeholders involved—but it has long since ceased to respond to objective reality.

What really survives today of the old families, of the twelve tribes of the lost right? Globalism has ruined the liberal dream of a world that would achieve justice and prosperity by itself through the virtues of the market alone. The evolution of our political system has ruined the “constitutionalist” dream since it has been demonstrated that the Constitution can be dynamited within the constitutional system itself. The drift of the Church under the pontificate of Francis has ruined the dream of political Catholicism, which believed it was possible to build a social right capable of defending non-negotiable values under the protection of the sturdy pillar of the Holy Mother. The brutal ideological paradigm shift of this decade, which has turned nation states into mere administrators of Agenda 2030 and the West into a progressive theme park of globalization, has ruined the conservatives’ dream, for the simple reason that there is nothing left worth preserving. This is the reality of that which is called “the right wing” at this point in the 21st century. And no brighter, by the way, is the horizon of the left, which gets its masses drunk on gallons of infantile nihilism, while handing over real sovereignty to powers alien to the people (to any people).

We are not talking about theoretical issues, but all of this has an immediate translation at the level of daily politics. For example, one cannot continue to happily defend “legal and orderly immigration” when one knows that the phenomenon pulls down wages and, by that means, impoverishes the already impoverished middle classes. Also, for example, one cannot continue dogmatically embracing the free circulation of goods when one knows that this means giving priority to foreign products manufactured at a better price (because they are produced under worse conditions) and condemning local producers to closure. And also for example, and to take a very Spanish case, one cannot continue to champion the Autonomous Regions, when one knows that, in practice, this is leading to a galloping limitation of citizens’ freedoms and to a steady erosion of the State itself.

All these things have made the terms “right” and “left” contain less and less substance. The left knows it and that is why they have resorted to desecrating tombs to cover up their ideological emptiness. They also know it in the PP, which has opted to renounce any strong idea for the sake of “centrality.” But these are twists and turns. Reality moves, things change and politics, which is the government of things, cannot remain oblivious to the transformation. Unless one decides to let oneself go, to follow the dominant current, to abstain from any action, from any decision, and to limit oneself to manage what is there. That is where the PP has wanted to place itself and that is what VOX does not support (and that is why in the factories of the right they no longer support VOX).

Tearing the Media Shroud

Now the PP and its opinionators feed the “VOX hecatomb” with the undisguised ambition of keeping the spoils of the corpse: “Of those three million VOX votes, two would be enough for us to do what we want to do.” Well… to do what? Because that is where the question lies; but this is precisely the question that right-wing opinion makers have decided not to raise. They remain in their old frame of mind. So old that they explain the VOX crisis as a struggle between Falangists and fundamentalists against liberals; that is, the terms we would use to explain a ministerial crisis in 1969. It is as if we were describing the quarrels of the European Commission talking about Guelphs and Ghibellines. Actually, it is not only VOX who should be self-critical.

It is said that Manuel Fraga (General Franco’s Minister of Tourism and Information between 1962 and 1969, and Minister of the Interior from 1975 to 1976, after King Juan Carlos I’s accession to the throne—Trans.) once, while evaluating the Spanish media landscape in the late 1980s, uttered the following sentence: “In Spain, the right wing will not win as long as Anson continues to run ABC.” The dictum has to be taken as a synecdoche and can be interpreted as follows: in Spain the right wing will not win an election as long as its opinion factories continue to be tied to the interests and servitudes intertwined in the last twenty years. In reality, it was the other way around: first came the victory of the PP in 1996 and then the departure of Anson from ABC, although the old master was already badly mauled. Be that as it may, the essence of the sentence applies to us: the Spanish right wing will not be able to change the country in depth as long as its opinion factories remain tied to the networks of interests consolidated over the last forty years, whether they are local hyper-leaderships or corporate interests, or well-tied subsidy systems. For that world, for its tribunes and talking heads and opinionators, VOX is a strange phenomenon that does not fit into their comfortable mental framework. It is easier to resort to labels from more than half a century ago: Falangists, fundamentalists, liberals and all those things. It is easier, yes—but it is a lie. And they know it.

Now the question is to see if VOX will be able to overcome the story of its own death and build a new mental framework, an atmosphere of ideas where it can breathe. It will not be easy, because the mainstream media have already woven the shroud of the deceased. From now on—although, in reality, all this began halfway through the last electoral campaign—everything that happens in VOX will be unanimously interpreted as a sure symptom of imminent extinction. And yet, all the problems that VOX has been putting on the table will continue to be present: the rupture of national unity, the objective reduction of liberties in the hands of separatism and its left-wing crutches, the objective fading of national sovereignty (in energy, health, food, etc.) with immediate harm to ordinary citizens, the rampant degradation of social morality and citizen security, etc.

In the end, the strength of VOX is not in the ideological families that compose it, but in the lacerating reality that it denounces. That was what drove the movement from its beginnings—and that is the framework from which it should not depart, on pain of ending up, this time—yes—like those other parties that could have been and were not. In other words: VOX must get off the stage and write its own drama. And let the self-criticism be made by the prompter himself.

José Javier Esparza, journalist, writer, has published around thirty books about the history of Spain. He currently directs and presents the political debate program “El gato al agua,” the dean of its genre in Spanish audiovisual work. This article appears courtesy of La gaceta de la iberosfera.