The new normal crept into Congress last week. The Partido Popular doubled the number of deputies in attendance. PSOE screamed that there is no new normal yet. "PP, what do you think you're doing?" There's a law on this, and there's an agreement. No more than twenty-five per cent of parties' deputies can enter the arena. The PP had gone to fifty per cent.
This augmented presence, legal or not, reintroduced some familiar faces behind the masks, and confirmed Congress as a beacon for feminism. The stage was set for party matriarchs and sisterhoods to dominate, and they let no one down. There was Carmen versus Cayetana, and Irene was pitched against Marga. For once, the Pablos and the Pedros could take a back seat.
Carmen Calvo is officially the deputy prime minister in that she is the first deputy PM, one of four deputy PMs. To the no doubt eternal disgust of Pablo Iglesias of feminist Podemos, he is only second deputy. Behind a woman. And not any woman. It had been Carmen with whom Podemos chiefly negotiated when it all went belly up in the first attempt to form a coalition with PSOE. Carmen was seen as a continual spanner in the coalition works, and eventually Pedro Sánchez was forced to observe that he would be unable to sleep at night if Podemos were to ever provide ministers in a government over which he presided. Miraculously, and after yet another election, he discovered that he would be able to sleep at night, confident in the fact that Carmen - the source of so much Podemos indignation - would form a buffer between him and Pablo.
The diplomacy that Carmen had seemingly not displayed when putting Podemos noses out of joint now came to the fore, the olive branch being extended towards the opposition and to Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo y Peralta-Ramos, the 13th Marchioness of Casa Fuerte, in particular. "Let's have a coffee," Carmen suggested to the PP parliamentary spokesperson. The offer would appear not to have been accepted, Cayetana demanding that PSOE prove that the PP are involved in wishing to stage a coup d'état - "an evil hoax, the only purpose of which is to camouflage the government's responsibility in the deaths of thousands and thousands of Spaniards".
Inherent to this exchange is the now constant matter of the International Women's Day marches the week before the state of alarm was declared. 8-M, as it has been shorthanded, is the Covid cause célèbre, the representation of opposition insistence of government mismanagement, and symbolically laden with heavily feminist implications, to boot.
Thus it was that Mrs. Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos equality minister Irene Montero, came to have her spat with the Congress-returning Marga Prohens of the PP. Marga was once the mothership of PP opposition to Francina in the Balearic parliament. In fact, she was the only member of the opposition capable of giving Francina a run for her money, an attribute recognised and rewarded through promotion to Congress. And now, Marga met Irene in all-out feminist warfare.
Irene has become hugely popular with the media, especially the broadcast media, as she is "good copy". She can be relied upon to come out with headlining statements, and so it was during a La Sexta interview last week. 8-M was inevitably the subject. She had gone to the rally in Madrid with her daughter. "No one can doubt that if there had been the slightest suspicion that there could be risk of contagion, I would not have acted like this." Irene therefore had no suspicion, even if there were some who were suggesting that allowing 100,000 or so people to gather at a time when virus evidence was beginning to mount might just have not been the wisest of decisions. Irene continued by laying into the right-wing. "I do not understand how they come to argue that in this government there may be murderers and criminals; people who, knowing that there could be infections, risked the population. It is a lie and absolute indecency."
Irene did of course succumb to the virus. She first tested positive four days after the Madrid rally. Be this as it may, as now fully restored to health Irene came up against Marga in Congress three days after the La Sexta interview. Marga wanted to know why Irene had encouraged thousands of women to take part in the 8-M demonstrations "when she knew of the high risk of contagion that this entailed". Irene was having none of this. "They (the right) criminalise 8-M, saying that feminist mobilisations bring death. This government is going to continue defending feminism."
If it was all a lie, as Irene had said, why, asked Marga, is the government "hindering a judicial investigation, when they (the government) saw that distance was the key" to avoiding contagions. And Marga then delivered not a coup d'état but a coup de grâce - "Feminism is not guilty. You are."