Gabriel Rufián, leader of the opposition to Yolanda Díaz

The ERC spokesman in Congress was asked this week at a press conference for his opinion regarding the unity of the left facing the next electoral cycle. "What I ask of Yolanda Díaz is that she does not negotiate coalitions as she negotiated the labor reform because, if she negotiates it the same way, there will not be three left-wing lists, there will be 150," replied Gabriel Rufián. The dart to the vice president is the last in a long list of the Republican spokesman and it sounded even more thunderous because the question did not mention the leader of United We Can.

A few minutes before and in the same press appearance, Rufián had already indicated the name and surname of the also Minister of Labor to take sides in the eventful internal life of a political space foreign to his own, not lacking in confusion either, but this time to account of an issue that had nothing to do with the internal mess of the left. The shaking of Rufián was as a result of a question about the price limits on basic foods, which the vice president put on the table and which is also endorsed by the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, and which a part of Podemos had disdained. “What I ask of you is that, in addition to the televisions, you speak with your party because, if not, the proposals remain on the cover. I have to remember that Mrs. Díaz is part of a party even though she now seems like a strange entity. And it is quite anomalous that she does not talk to her party about proposals that we find interesting”. Rufián reached that conclusion in a response that he had started by assuring that "it would be very disrespectful" on his part to get involved "in the affairs of a party" that is not his.

The next day, already in the midst of a government control session, the ERC spokesman once again took advantage of his question to launch another taunt with the same objective. “That of bumping into a shopping basket sounds very good, but what is the use if you don't even talk about it among yourselves, if even some of you don't even talk about it with your party? It serves to frustrate and disappoint.” Although the exchange of reproaches and, specifically, Rufián's criticism of the vice president have been common since the great disagreement between the two as a result of the ERC vote against the labor reform, many deputies were struck by the insistence and explicit criticism. More so in a week in which Yolanda Díaz was absent from parliamentary activity due to being on a work trip to Bali.

“It seems that he says the things that Pablo Iglesias or many people from Podemos would like to say and cannot,” joked a deputy from the confederal group itself in the courtyard of Congress after the session. The truth is that the fixation of the Republican spokesman with the second vice president has not gone unnoticed, which has made him a kind of leader of the opposition to Yolanda Díaz. "It's harder with her than when the PP ask her," says a PSOE deputy. Rufián assures that he does not have any type of "personal problem" with the Minister of Labor. And even he points out: “In fact, quite the opposite. We have a good relationship."

Some leaders close to both Díaz and Rufián himself maintain that this statement could have been true one day, but not since Esquerra's vote against the labor reform. The underlying question is why a spokesperson for one of the Government's allied parties and who, furthermore, from an ideological point of view, largely shares the views of a minister who has deployed a broad reformist and leftist agenda in her department, has her in the spotlight in such an explicit way. And there are versions for all tastes depending on who you ask. In conversation with this newspaper, Rufián himself explains the reason for his criticism, after ruling out that he has a special fixation. “It's not an obsession or anything like that at all. I am the first to say that Yolanda has to do well because that will be good for everyone. But we confront the things that we think we have to confront.”

The ERC spokesman assures that, although there are "complicated media moments to criticize depending on which political character", in his opinion "things must always be said". "I have done the same with other parties or with other politicians", he insists. At the same time, he acknowledges having "a great affinity" with the Podemos environment. For several years he had a bad relationship with Pablo Iglesias, something that has changed since the former vice president left the political front line. “I have been to La Tuerka, I admire Irene Montero, that is how it is. And of course she worries me about what might happen in that whole world.”

He says that this week he has been especially combative with Yolanda Díaz because he is concerned about the division of the left. “It seems wrong to me that you go out to talk about a proposal that you have not even discussed with your party. The lefts are not doing well like this, the division penalizes us. You owe yourself to a few acronyms because, if not, the image we give is one of chaos and it seems dramatic to me that they can go to the elections divided, ”he points out. Yolanda Díaz, who is not affiliated with Podemos and who ceased to be a United Left long ago, repeats over and over again that her current political project has little or nothing to do with acronyms or parties. And he, at the same time, makes an effort to underline the differences with Podemos, with whom he does not want to go into a coalition, As he explained in a recent interview in elDiario.es.

However, several Catalan deputies who have a good relationship with Rufián and who know him closely agree in pointing to the negotiations prior to the labor reform as the turning point of a problem that remains unresolved between the two. “He is rooted in that”, says one of them. “That ERC voted against a labor reform that returned so many rights to workers and that the unions supported was perceived by many people as a mistake, starting with a large part of its bases, which are also affiliated with the UGT. That has worn him down and, because of how the negotiation went, he felt to a certain extent despised by Yolanda Díaz, who was also telling him about anything but nice because she could not understand her position ”.

Other Esquerra sources point out that the origin of the problem lies in a meeting that Yolanda Díaz held during those days in Barcelona with Pere Aragonés and which Rufián found out about through information from La Vanguardia. According to that thesis, Rufián, who was negotiating the labor reform in Madrid, felt bypassed by the vice president.

In United We Can there are those who think that, in reality, what matters is partisan competition. The internal conflict that the confederal space is experiencing is well known while waiting for the new political project led by Yolanda Díaz to materialize and the fit and protagonism that the different parties may have in it. Some turbulence that has made the coexistence between the leading core of Podemos and the second vice president and her team especially tense. “Rufián has detected a source of conflict there and tries to generate noise. Keep in mind that all the polls do very well for Yolanda in Catalonia and that is direct competition for Esquerra”, reflects another deputy.

Although Díaz has not formally confirmed that he is going to run, his team reviews each poll that is published and has verified that in Catalonia his leadership is especially well received among ERC voters. And in addition, the vice president has in the leader of the Commons, Ada Colau, one of her closest allies. Unlike the tensions in which the mayor of Barcelona and the former leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, were sometimes involved, the harmony between Díaz and Colau is, today, absolute and has finished greasing a political space that In the past, it was also plunged into various internal problems that now want to turn the page. This translates into more competitive candidacies among the progressive electorate of Catalonia, mainly with a view to the municipal elections. A field that will not be alien to the ERC spokesman in the coming months.

His party, which turned him, together with Oriol Junqueras, into the strong man in Madrid after the goodbye of Joan Tardà and who trusted him to lead some very complex negotiations for the investiture of Pedro Sánchez in which he had a leading role, has separated in recent months from other important negotiations with the Government to carry out the dialogue directly from Catalonia or even from the Palau de la Generalitat itself. And, in addition, he has chosen him to be a candidate for mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, his hometown, in the Barcelona metropolitan belt and governed with an absolute majority by the PSC. Expectations are not at all optimistic for ERC in that municipality and no one in the party is counting on reaching the mayor's office. But in the independence formation they deny that it is an attempt to shore it up. “The May elections are very important for us and the metropolitan belt is strategic. There is a lot of vote to win there after years of dominance by Ciudadanos and now, again, by the PSC. And Gabriel is a very good bet for it”, explain the Republicans.

In fact, Rufián himself would have requested to reconcile this assignment with his responsibility as spokesman in Madrid, where he has been based for years personally and politically and from where he has no intention of leaving. “How Yolanda Díaz is going to worry me about the elections in Santa Coloma,” he tells elDiario.es. “First, because she has already said that she is not going to participate in the municipal elections; and second, because the one that wins there is the PSC and the commons have almost no representation”, he argues before pointing out that “another thing” is the generals. “There it is obvious that we have a voting border with her. But we compete with the PSC, which is the one who is strong there, not with the commons. And really my criticism has nothing to do with it, ”he maintains.

His clashes with Díaz mark the last episode of a leader accustomed to hoarding the spotlight, known for the acidity of his speeches in the Congress rostrum and also on social networks. They often say that he is more red than independentist. Perhaps for this reason or because of the return to pragmatism that ERC upholds after the end of the failed procés, it is common for him to be booed at pro-independence demonstrations by the most exalted public. He has never hidden his lack of sympathy towards "the new convergents", in reference to his Catalan partners at Junts. And although now he seems to have a better dialogue with the PSOE of Pedro Sánchez than with the United We Can of the second vice president, he has never avoided public clashes with the president either. Rufián, who has come to expose wives or printers on his bench, put a handful of bullets on the podium during his speech in the debate on the state of the nation in July, pointing directly at Sánchez for defending the actions of the Moroccan police at the Melilla border that killed several migrants and wounded dozens. “We already know what he is like, it is his style and he is a brilliant politician in whom we fully trust,” they say from ERC about the busiest Ruffian: spokesperson in Congress, candidate for the municipal elections and leader of the opposition to Yolanda Díaz.

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