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Another 'red wall' has collapsed, this time in Spain

Edward Anderson
May 17, 2021

After a convincing victory for the right-wing Popular Party in the recent Madrid elections, Edward Anderson examines the damage for the Socialist party, and if there is hope for a recovery.

This month, it is not just the UK where 'red walls' have been destroyed. For in the community of Madrid, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) triumphed by securing 65 seats in the Assembly and hold more than all parties of the left combined. PP Madrid leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso will once again be President of Madrid and via 'Ayusomania', has transformed the right-wing party into one that tops the polls in traditional Socialist (PSOE) areas across the city and region of Madrid. In the city, PP topped the polls in heavily immigrant areas such as Vallecas and Chueca, an area that hawks its progressive branding to the same nauseating extent as any modern business.

However, it is into the regions to the south of City, such as Leganes and Getafe (where PSOE won 35% and 33% of the vote respectively in 2019) where the real damage was one. PSOE saw themselves having their vote partially seeped to PP and left-wing competition Mas Madrid. With the collapse of Cuidadanos, this was all Ayuso needed.

Now, we should avoid lazy comparisons. Madrid and wider Spain is not first past the post but proportional system so although maps from El Diario show a sea of blue, looking beneath the service we can see that there is still a left-wing majority in areas of Madrid traditionally held by PSOE. If you want a more apt comparison, look to the UK election of 2015 where Cameron gained a majority by swallowing the Lib Dem vote and seats whole. In 2019, the liberal Cuidadanos held 26 seats and nearly 20%, with PP only just holding onto the mantle of largest right-wing party. Just two years later, Ayuso's clear 'libertad' campaign of keeping as many businesses open and as few restrictions as allowed, enabled her to copy the national trend and engulf Cuidadanos whole. By also noting that the left has not held the Assembly of Madrid since 1991, you begin to understand that the election isn't the complete disaster for the left that has been painted.

It is, however, a nightmare result for the increasingly isolated traditional left wing party PSOE and this is where comparisons can be made. For this election, like Labour's in much of the UK, was a disaster. PSOE lost 4 seats (despite the assembly expanding from 132 to 136) and found themselves unable to win any votes from the collapse of the more economically liberal Cuidadanos and losing votes to Mas Madrid in the process. This is PSOE worst ever result in the Assembly of Madrid, gaining only 24 seats and less than 17% of the vote. It was, whichever way you look at it, a disaster.

So why the collapse? Well, obviously the most liberal place in Spain was likely to respond to Ayuso's siren call and PP's ability to turn this into Madrid's referendum on the national PSOE and Podemos government hurt but like Labour in the UK, their voter coalition is rapidly disintegrating.

PSOE's now tired and tedious social liberal platitudes and fearmongering over Vox attracted no liberal voters for a simple reason, the right in Madrid is as hyper liberal as you can get. At PP rallies Ayuso constantly name-checked immigrants, LGBT and every other identity group you wish. The cynic would point out the rich have always loved cheap immigrants and the individualism that social liberalism promotes but for now, let us just say PP in Madrid are (like every other party bar Vox) a liberal party. PSOE were fighting an enemy that did not exist. Plus, in Spain's plural system PSOE will now always be out 'woked' by another 'progressive' party so if this really is your obsession, then you are not voting PSOE anyway.

Meanwhile, the party's miserable economic offer to the increasing number of young adults trapped at home or unemployed showed the intellectual bankruptcy at the heart of the party. PSOE Madrid's grand offer to the huge issue of rent and cost of living in Madrid was a discount on rent for a month (before presumably those who used it winning the lottery to pay rent from then on). If you were a young adult trapped at your parents' house, you had a choice between PP and PSOE offering nothing (but at least PP would let you out for a drink), whilst those affected by rent could turn to Mas Madrid's call for restrictions on tourist lets. Looking at how PSOE appealed to absolutely no one, it is amazing they even got 17%. Add the fact that turnout in this Assembly election was the highest ever (over 71%) and the excuses are thin.

For PP this is a huge shot in the arm which may lead to a different set of problems (more on this next time) and a wakeup call for PSOE. Now, Madrid is not Spain and there is time before a national election but PSOE's humiliation in Madrid follows a worrying trend of an increasingly irrelevant socially liberal platform, devoid of the long-term economic policy needed to hold onto its traditional vote. If PSOE do not find the answers soon, it is not just red walls in the UK that will no longer exist.

Having previously lived in Catalonia during the 2017 Catalan Referendum, its Unilateral Declaration of Independence and election, Edward is currently based in Madrid writing about Spanish and European politics.
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