Health Minister Salvador Illa. | Bibi


So, and in a couple of weeks’ time, farewell, Salvador. Almost to the day (January 13) when you swore to faithfully execute your duties of the office of health minister with loyalty to the Constitution, etc., you will be leaving your duties behind. What a relief, eh?

With a philosophy degree and a business masters underlined on your CV, Pedro Sánchez plucked you from the ranks of PSOE in Catalonia to take a portfolio for which, no one could really argue, including yourself, you had very little background.

While this is often to be said of ministers and is often correct, you will be able to study the framed photo of the newly sworn-in government that sits on your mantelpiece and appreciate that a number of your fellow ministers did have the requisite professional credentials. There was, for example, the first astronaut to become a minister - Pedro Duque. A degree in aeronautical engineering as well as stints with the European Space Agency qualified Pedro to be the minister for science. Admittedly, Spain wasn’t about to embark on its own space exploration missions, but some scientific leaning was no doubt useful when it came to ... well, you know what, Salvador; you know only too well.

It’s doubtful that you are familiar with ‘The Fast Show’, Salvador, but were you to be, you will know a character called Unlucky Alf and his catchphrase. “Oh bugger,“ you must have been inclined to declare when you realised what you had let yourself in for. Only just sworn in, and there you were - tempted to swear. The thing was, as you will doubtless recall, that Pedro (the PM Pedro and not the astronaut minister) had looked favourably on your management skills and on your being from Catalonia.

With regard to the latter, it was felt that you might just be a bridge to uppity independence-minded sorts. This, as such, didn’t have a great deal to do with health, but politics were at play; hence a Catalan face such as your own could come in handy.

But rather than building bridges with the Esquerra Republicana Catalunya and even Quim Torra, it wasn’t long before you were being bombarded with demands for air bridges. This was before they became known as safe corridors, by when the bombardment was even heavier. You were on a crash course of air transport protocols, having previously needed to be very rapidly educated in the basics of virology.

Perhaps the philosophy degree proved useful after all. What was it that Wittgenstein said? “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it isn’t in order to enjoy ourselves.” It could hardly be said that you looked as if you were enjoying yourself. But then who could have, faced with something that no one could enjoy? Solace was thus to be taken from the fact that you were in the same boat as everyone else, suffering an existential crisis as the 101 virology course informed you that the Grim Reaper had arrived on an Airbus and was coming after you and everyone else.

There was a difference of course. You weren’t like everyone else because you were the health minister. More than this, you were de facto PM, as health commanded all. That management ability mattered, not least when it came to delegating the communication of the worst news to a living, breathing epidemiologist - Fernando Simón.

A week is a long time in politics, Salvador, and a year must have felt like an eternity. Is life about to get any easier, though? Roughly coinciding with the anniversary of that fateful day in January, you will be off. Not because Pedro hasn’t valued your efforts as health minister. No, no. It’s back to Catalonia for you. Formerly and in effect the PSC (PSOE Catalonia) number two, you are to be number one. There is an election to be fought in Catalonia, and you are Pedro’s man. From the frying pan of a year at the health ministry to the fire of the Catalan question. “Prou! Recuperem el seny.” You’ll certainly remember that. “Enough! Let’s recover common sense,” the slogan of the anti-independence demo at which you were very high profile, a week after the referendum in 2017.

The defence minister, Margarita Robles, has been glowing in her praise of you. Salvador Illa will be a “magnificent” candidate to head the PSC’s election. A magnificent candidate, and he has been “a magnificent health minister”, who has demonstrated his “humanity” through his management of the pandemic crisis.

It seems as if your successor will be Carolina Darias, the minister for territorial policy. She is up to speed with the pandemic as she sits on the Inter-Territorial Council for the National Health System, and she - around the time of the Catalonia election in mid-February - will doubtless be able to appear as if she is enjoying being minister. The vaccination programme will be going full steam ahead, the infection rate will (God willing) be coming down. Meanwhile, you, Salvador, will have a heck of a job getting elected. But then, maybe even hardened Catalanists will look upon you with some favour. Or at least with some sympathy. What a year you have had.