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Spain’s socialists are running out of time and elections

Edward Anderson
June 3, 2022

As Andalucíans prepare to go to the polls in regional elections, Edward Anderson writes that Spain's Socialists are running out of time to make their case to the Spanish people.

It´s that time of year because, well it´s always that time of year in Spain´s seemingly never-ending electoral cycle. We are less than a month away from the Andalucían regional elections, heading for yet another historic first and yet another crushing defeat for the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE).

The significance of Andalucía for PSOE cannot be understated, ever since the era of Adolfo Suarez and PSOE´s support for Andalucían autonomy, the region was a bastion for PSOE much in the same way northern English mining communities were for Labour. But, much in the same way as Labour, their power slipped away as complacency, apathy and a desire to more towards the more glamorous liberal centres led to gradual disenfranchisement. Eventually, this led to PSOE being booted from office for the first time ever in 2018. The result eventually led to Susana Diaz, one time challenger to PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez, losing her place as head of the Andalucían Regional Party in favour of Sanchez´s man, Juan Espadas.

Yet four years later, not only are PSOE unable to recover their position, they are set for another historically low result with current opinion polls putting them on 27 per cent. The People's Party (PP) on the other hand has swallowed virtually the entirety of the economically and socially liberal Ciudadanos Party vote, whose death after a 2018 result of 21 per cent and 18 seats has seen them merely be a forerunner to a hyper liberal PP cleaning up. The historic first meaning it would be the first time in their history that PP can govern alone in Andalucía.

More worryingly for PSOE, the dominant third force in Andalucían politics is not some regionalist party nor a left-wing coalition party but that of Vox. Many commentators and academics would classify them as right wing but it´s not a description I buy. A ´nationalist´ party that wants to promote Spain but can't bring itself to discriminate against landlords in favour of young Spaniards. A party that decries immigration but won´t countenance leaving the EU seems more appropriately described as plastic patriots.

That isn´t to say concerns over immigration are not legitimate and unless PSOE wish to pretend that suddenly everyone in Andalucía is racist (a view that might be popular in Madrid coffee houses but isn´t going to actually get votes back in Jaén), there´s a worrying disconnect from a former heartland. For Vox, Andalucía represented their emergence onto the national stage in 2018 as a major political force, this time it represents a unique challenge.

Earlier this year, the regional election in Castilla y León led to Vox surging into being the coalition partner of PP and making the rhetoric of cleaning out the old guard worthless in four years' time. Bluntly, you don´t get to be the party of change if you prop up PP who have been in charge in Castilla y León uninterrupted for 30 years. Now if the polls are accurate, PP will be able to govern alone just like in Madrid with Vox being the ´useful idiot´, big enough to prevent left wing parties having a majority over PP but not big enough to prevent them from governing alone.

Vox need only look at their irrelevance in Madrid and the de facto liquidation of Cuidadanos just four years after their electoral wave to see where being the supporting act to PP will get you in Spanish politics.

For PP, it will be the first election result the whole party can celebrate. The disappointing result for PP in Castilla y León back in the spring resulted in an internal war within PP. Former PP leader and now forgotten man Pablo Casado was removed (losing his battle with self-appointed Queen of Madrid Isabel Díaz Ayuso) and replaced by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who had to be dragged out of Galicia having previously been quite content to be Manuel Fraga´s (former Galician regional President) undisputed successor in the region.

No one is expecting Sanchez to be under threat if PSOE fall to another historically low result in their former Red Wall. But that´s perhaps more of a sign of how demoralised and stagnant PSOE have become after a lifeless election in Madrid last year. This time it´s Sanchez´s man, so should PSOE put in another poor result, with Madrid going back to the polls in less than 12 months, the outlook is bleak. PSOE are running out of elections, running out of time and Sanchez is running out of excuses.

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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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