Gordon Campbell on the lessons from Spain’s election

03341cdb489b0fa70c91Spain held an election last Sunday… And stop me if any of this doesn’t sound familiar. The two right wing parties were expected to win a relatively victory after a year of setbacks for the ruling centre-left government. The large, traditional party of the centre right (the Peoples’s Party or PP) was led by a supremely confident but gaffe-prone individual who struggled to connect with the electorate.

PP’s running mate was Vox, a neo-liberal party of the extreme right, which campaigned against an allegedly “woke” government unduly influenced by feminists and trans rights activists. Vox was also calling for lower taxation and employer-friendly labour laws. Meanwhile, the centre-left government of Pedro Sanchez was accused even by its own running mate Sumar of (a) doing too little to address the country’s social problems, and (b) clinging to power for its own sake.

Sumar’s leader Yolanda Diaz happens to be Spain’s most popular politician, and she attracts support from across the political spectrum. As the Labour Minister in the Sanchez government, Diaz has also been widely praised for raising the minimum wage substantially, and for granting the workers in gig economy firms (like Uber and Just Eats) the full rights of employees, via a model piece of legislation that the European Union is widely expected to adopt next year.

So…. What happened? During the last weeks of the campaign, the media finally and belatedly turned its attention away from the failings of the government. The arrogant gaffes by the PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo began to occur in the media spotlight:

The final stretch of Feijóo’s campaign has been especially disastrous, especially after his terrible mistake in a TVE interview, where he provided false information and, far from correcting himself, challenged the journalist who pointed it out to him,…to apologize. Then Feijóo decided not to go to the four-way [leaders] debate, something that many considered another mistake….

Crucially, the radical “solutions” being offered by the Vox party began to scare away centrist voters, the closer the right’s ascent to power became a real likelihood. In particular, Vox’s neo-fascist policies began to alienate the small regional parties that – in a close result – PP would still need to bring together a ruling coalition. Formerly, most of the small regional parties had been allies of the centre right. Yet as Vox pulled PP further and further to the right, the regional parties (and their voters) seemed more amenable to striking deals with the current government.

In short, instead of the centre-right romping to victory as everyone expected, the last few weeks of the campaign resulted in Spanish voters recoiling from that prospect. On Sunday, the El Pais newspaper reported, voters delivered a hung Parliament. It remains unclear whether the right or the left will be able to form a new government. Yet Sanchez reportedly has the slightly easier task, in that he is better placed to cobble together some of the more moderate regional parties. The early arithmetic suggests Sanchez can achieve 172 votes in Parliament, one more than the centre right parties. (An outright majority would require 176 seats, so fresh elections may be called.)

For Sanchez to become Prime Minister again, he would also need to convince the tiny Junts party to abstain from the crucial votes in Parliament. This is a clear sign that God has a sense of humour:

Junts [is] the party of Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan premier who pushed forward an illegal independence referendum, then fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution. In this formula, Sánchez would not need the affirmative vote of Junts to become the next prime minister, something difficult to imagine, but an abstention would be enough.

You may recall that in days gone by, Sanchez had put Puigdemont in jail. That abstention, as Junts has already made clear, would only come at a price. Obviously, it would be grasping at straws for Labour to assume that events in Spain might repeat themselves here. Yet some of the similarities are interesting. There, as here, the media prejudged the result:

The PP’s leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo had gone into the election campaign believing that his victory was assured, not least because of the constant demonization of the [ruling] coalition by a right wing–dominated press over the last three years.

More to the point, there is no equivalent on the New Zealand left to Yolanda Diaz, whose Sumar platform offered a far bolder programme than anything the Labour/Greens coalition has dared to offer here:

[Sumar’s] campaign has been fought on two fronts: the first, confrontation with the Spanish right; the second, appeals to popular social democratic policies. Sumar’s ambitious program would guarantee a series of tangible new rights in work, housing, and health care — including an expansion of public services to include free dental and eye care; a gradual reduction of the working week to thirty-two hours over the course of the next legislature; a massive program of public housing construction; and a ground-breaking universal inheritance scheme, which would see all twenty-three-year-olds in Spain receive €20,000 to “kickstart a life project” of their choosing.

Meanwhile back in New Zealand…. The centre right is being given a virtual free ride. Almost no attention has been paid to the kind of society its policies would create, let alone to how unaffordable its promises to date would be. As things stand, the National/ACT array of policies would – if enacted – deliver the most extreme right wing government that New Zealand has experienced since the mid 1980s. The public has yet to be alerted as to what a change of government would entail, let alone told which ACT policies (if any) National would reject on principle.

What the Spanish outcome usefully indicates is that the public can come very late in the campaign to a realisation of just what the alternative would involve, and it can take fright at the prospect.

Footnote One: To those with a passing interest in Spain’s political landscape, the sweeping success in 2015 of the grassroots movement called Podemos was a significant moment. Spain’s current government is a coalition between the traditional centre-left party PSOE ( led by Sanchez) and the Unidas Podemos alliance. Last minute negotiations in May between Diaz and Podemos led to the creation of Sumar, a new alliance of left wing groups. However, Diaz has demoted the old guard of Podemos loyalists including Irene Montero, the partner of Podemos’ Charismatic co-founder Pablo Yglesias, now retired. A useful media backgrounder on Sumar can be found here.

Rosalia, on repeat

Here’s the most recent single from the Spanish superstar Rosalia, whose early background was in her brand of neo-flamenco. The video kicks off – like so many videos before it – at the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo :

For old times sake, here’s her 2018 breakout single: ”Malamente”