“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” Hillary Clinton

Retirement can take many forms. For some, it means the purchase of a cherry wood pipe and some grade-A shag tobacco. For others, it might be that longed-for yacht and a trip round the Caribbean. In the case of erstwhile Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, it means having a haircut.

There were other issues on the news agenda last week: the fate of 140 billion euros in EU funds; the lifting of a national state of emergency; the bombing of Gaza. But in Spain, all were trumped by the news that Iglesias, who recently retired from politics, had amputated his talismanic, swishing ponytail.

A heavy rinse of meaning. Photo: Dani Gago.

The story broke with a side-on photo of him sitting placidly in the sunshine, holding a book while gazing into the distance, the ponytail now gone. That picture immediately unleashed a torrent of comment, analysis and downright gibberish as Spain obsessed over the absent hair. Was this a personal statement or a political one? Was Iglesias in crisis? Did the haircut in question represent some kind of betrayal?

To be fair, it’s impossible not to imbue those lopped-off locks with a heavy rinse of meaning. Just look at the timing. Iglesias did this days before the 10th anniversary of the most celebrated moment of the indignados movement: when tens of thousands of people gathered in Madrid on May 15th, 2011, demanding a major shake-up of the two-party political system.

The indignados’ legacy was the breaking up of that duopoly. Podemos was not the party of 15-M, but it did, as one commentator put it, “drink from the same well”, digesting and then exploiting the clamour for upheaval. From 2014 onwards, Podemos and (in a different way) Ciudadanos challenged the Socialist-PP supremacy, at times overtaking them in polls and repeatedly forcing them to negotiate in order to govern. But in the last 18 months, the hyper-leaders of both parties have resigned. In the case of Ciudadanos’s Albert Rivera, hubris did for him; as for Iglesias, his status as a lightning rod for the right appeared to take its toll.

The PP’s extraordinary resurgence in the recent Madrid election might just be a freak, a perfect storm of late-pandemic circumstances which made the victory of libertarian-populist Isabel Díaz Ayuso inevitable. Or it might be the shape of things to come: the restoration of a staid two-party system (okay, three if you include Vox) which was tested and shown wanting during the euro-zone financial crisis.

Squeezed between that election and the indignados’s birthday, it’s hard not to see the severing of that clump of hair as anything other than the end of a decade-long socio-political dream.

But then again.

The insightful Marina Lobo offered another explanation: “Nobody has thought about the possibility that Iglesias may have gone to the hairdresser’s to have a trim and things just got out of hand.”

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