To dine or not to dine with bankers

Being the visible face of a candidature with a chance of winning means things happen to you that you've never experienced before. For example, you suddenly start to receive invitations to lunch or dinner with bankers. How should we deal with this?

Being the mayoral candidate for Barcelona en Comú is, without a doubt, an honour. It's a privilege to be the visible face of an exciting, collective process that is engaging thousands of people, harnessing their strength, commitment, and great generosity. That's why it's also a huge responsibility: every move, every word, is no longer just my own. They could affect all of us involved in this project, which is the great hope of many people.

That's why, as soon as the candidacy was made official, I decided to launch this website and publish my financial records and diary. But it's not enough. Being on the front line of municipal elections that could mark the start of a new political era, and with polls showing that we're the main opposition to the CiU government, have meant that things have started to happen that those of us who don't come from the world of professional politics have never experienced before. And we're having to face some dilemmas that I'd like to share here, like that of whether or not to accept certain invitations.

It first happened last December. A well-known journalist sent me a Whatsapp saying: “I'll call you for something unrelated to the radio that I think will be useful”. I called her and she said that a friend of hers, the director of a bank, wanted to have an informal lunch with me, in order to chat. I told her that I'm delighted to speak with (almost) anyone, but that I'd prefer to avoid informal situations with certain sectors, and that it would be better to have a formal meeting. She never got back to me.

A few weeks ago it happened again. I received this message via another well-known journalist: “I'd like to invite you to my place for dinner with some friends from the business world who want to meet you, and who I think you'll find interesting (it's not to be made public)”. I spoke to him over the phone and he confirmed that they were directors of financial companies. I shared my concerns about this kind of informal meeting with him and we agreed I'd think about it and get back to him.

I won't reveal the name of the journalists because I don't think it's necessary to address the issue, and I don't have any reason to believe that they acted in bad faith. In fact, I'm grateful for the trust they showed in contacting me. I also don't think there's anything wrong in meeting people for lunch or dinner, especially with the full diaries we have at the moment. And yet... And yet something tells me that hiding behind these unimportant anecdotes are practices that are strongly related to the sins of our imperfect democracy. To make myself clear: a non-profit organization doesn't usually invite you to lunch or dinner. They request a meeting and explain their goals, and probably publish details of the meeting on their website or in a press release. In contrast, there are powerful economic interests who, even though they don't usually make their position clear publicly, obviously have easy and regular access to people in positions of power. Probably by means of regular lunches and dinners. Maybe even shared holidays. But we don't have access to any information about these meetings.

It's clear that there are customs, ways of doing things, traditions. Both invitations from the financial world were sent to me in the same way. Another powerful sector, the hotel lobby, has also recently asked me to dinner. This time the invitation was sent more formally, by telephone and e-mail, which allowed us to reply as an organization: we agreed to meet but we requested a meeting, rather than a lunch. They agreed, and the meeting will take place next Wednesday at 13h, as you can see in my diary.

We are standing for election in order to govern, of course, and this means talking to everyone. It's normal and makes sense that we speak to all powers and interest groups. But this must be done under equal conditions in terms of access and treatment. Does that mean lunch and dinner are off the table? Not necessarily, as long as it's made public, that the issues discussed are explained and everyone pays their share. When we say that politics can be done differently, we're talking about concrete practices like this one. Publishing the diaries of elected representatives (or those standing for office) is more important than it may seem. In the case of doubt, transparency will always be the best collective tool to guarantee our honesty in deed as well as word.