Spanish state: behind the hard right’s win in the Community of Madrid
By Dick Nichols
May 11, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — It is far too early to be confident about whether the overwhelming victory of the right and far right in the May 4 Community of Madrid election is a harbinger of things to come in the Spanish state.
That the result marks a turn of the political tide is, of course, the hope and forecast of the victorious right-wing People’s Party (PP) and the racist far-right Vox. Just as inevitably, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the forces to its left—the Greens-like More Madrid and the radical Unidas Podemos (UP)—desire and predict that this apparent surge of reaction will prove to be a short-lived, Madrid-specific, nightmare.
Irrespective of which of the tendencies revealed on May 4 turn out to be long-lasting or fleeting, we need to register them and ask why they emerged.
Pablo Iglesias’s scheme for the left to win the election for the 136-seat Assembly of Madrid was simple: to inspire the workers and poor of the region surrounding the Spanish capital to bother to vote. The UP leader, who left his position as second deputy prime minister to lead the party’s Madrid campaign, seized upon one key aspect of politics in the region: the PP’s 26-year domination of the Community of Madrid has been guaranteed by the 80%-plus participation of voters from the wealthiest 30% of its neighborhoods.
The strategic conclusion Iglesias drew was direct: if the poorest 70% could be persuaded to vote with even a fraction of the commitment of the richer 30%, a victory for the left as conventionally defined—PSOE, More Madrid and the radical UP—would be certain.
Something turned out to be very wrong with this calculation. When May 4 arrived the participation rate certainly leaped, climbing from 64.27% at the 2019 poll to a record 76.25%, over 5% more than the previous peak in 1995: an extra 400,000 turned out to vote despite the ongoing COVID-19 danger. Yet far from responding to Iglesias’s call to “defeat fascism”, this tide was overwhelmingly composed of people intent on voting for the PP of incumbent Madrid premier Isabel Ayuso, or even for Vox, led by Rocio Monasterio, granddaughter of a Cuban landowner expropriated in the 1959 revolution.
These two forces plus the neoliberal Citizens (which failed to make the assembly’s 5% threshold for representation) added over 440,000 votes to the right bloc’s score on May 4, reaching 57.43% of the formal vote (up from 50.57% in 2019).
At the same time, despite the jump in participation, the vote for the parties of the left actually fell, from 47.6% to 41.03% (by 55,000 votes). Support for More Madrid and UP rose (by 140,000 and 80,000 respectively), but these gains were wiped out by the collapse in support for the PSOE (down by 275,000). While a triumphant Ayuso more than doubled the PP’s seat tally to 65 (up from 30) and Vox won 13 (up from 12), the PSOE recorded its worst ever result in a Community of Madrid election (24, down from 37). The PSOE was even nudged into third place by More Madrid (up to 24 seats from 20).
Iglesias’s intervention ensured that UP avoided Citizens-style annihilation, but his party’s increased score (from 7 seats to 10) was far too small to prevent the seat tally of the three left parties together falling short of the PP’s.
The Community of Madrid will now have an ultra-neoliberal, ultra-Spanish nationalist PP administration, invested with the help of Vox: the prospect now is for Trumpism, bullfighting and war on “the enemies of Spain”, with the “socialist-communist” government of PSOE prime minister Pedro Sánchez as principal target.
The UP slogan for the election was “Let The Majority Speak!”. It did, but its message was not that scripted for it by Iglesias.
…of the right and far right
With this result the PP achieved all its war aims for May 4: it was freed from dependence on the annihilated Citizens; kept Vox from growing at its expense (as in the February 14 Catalan regional poll); strengthened the hand of PSOE’s regional leaders oppose to governing with UP and with the support of Basque and Catalan “secessionists”; added credibility to its claim to be the natural home of the right; and projected its win as “kilometre zero” in the struggle to “recover Spain”.
It even had the great satisfaction of seeing Iglesias announce his resignation from his elected positions and from institutional politics. He departed with this comment:
Right now, I don’t believe I help to add more. When they’ve turned you into a scapegoat it means that your role becomes enormously limited and mobilises the worst in those who hate democracy.
Iglesias was thus ascribing the triumph of the PP to its success in turning him into a political negative—the left had lost because the media and political machinery of the Francoism-riddled Spanish establishment had convinced hundreds and thousands to vote against hateful “Pony-Tail”.
Was that really the main reason for the PP victory? Is it a satisfactory explanation, given the Madrid PP’s atrocious history of corruption, deliberate neglect of public health and education and the 2019-2021 PP-Citizens administration’s delinquent handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the worst of Spain’s 17 regional governments? Does individual political personality count for this much? Would things have turned out better for the left as a whole if Iglesias hadn’t bothered to stand?
Superficially, the surge in the right vote could be ascribed to Iglesias’s announced plan to mobilise Madrid’s poorer “south”, especially UP’s proposal to tax the wealthiest to fund the restoration of Madrid’s run-down public health and education. That predictably set off a massive counter-mobilisation of the capital’s prosperous “north”.
This reaction was real and menacing: the prospect of losing its main political stronghold set all parts of the right’s political and media machinery—the TV, radio and print media of the Madrid “cavern”, the venomous “independent” social networks, exiled Latin American (especially Venezuelan) big money, and the most retrograde elements of the Catholic Church—on a war footing.
The result was an election campaign echoing the class polarisation of the 1936-39 Civil War, with Iglesias as central target of the right’s abuse and lies. Their filth reached its lowest point when Monasterio refused in a radio debate to condemn a death threat (complete with bullets) mailed to Iglesias: she insinuated it was a UP operation done to win sympathy.
At that point Iglesias walked out of the debate, scolding the moderator for allowing Monasterio to get away with lying insults and for treating Vox as just another democratic party with a message that had to be respected. After 30 minutes of debate without Iglesias, PSOE lead candidate Ángel Gabilondo and More Madrid candidate Mónica García also walked out, responding, according to Iglesias in a later interview, to the storm of social network support for his action.
At this point, the UP’s slogan “fascism or democracy” became the de facto campaign catch cry of the left bloc as a whole. From this point the PSOE, which had started the campaign distancing itself from Iglesias’s “extremism” and treating Vox as just one more political opponent, flipped to demanding that the PP join it in a cordon sanitaire against the racist right, following the example of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance towards Alternative for Germany. Ayuso refused, saying she was focused on “the real problems of the people of Madrid”. On May Day, the three left lead candidates marched together in Madrid, along with a bevy of Spanish government ministers.
Voting for fascism everywhere?
When the dreadful election results came in, Vox leader Santiago Abascal showed he shared Iglesias’s assessment of the result: he tweeted from the other side of the trenches that “the Popular Front has been defeated”. They shall not pass? They had passed in a canter.
Iglesias’s account of this defeat begs the most important question of all: why, if this really were a contest between “fascism” and “democracy”—if this were 1936 and not 2021—did a popular majority vote for “fascism”? Why was there no increase in the overall left vote, but rather a shift within the left bloc to the more radical positions of UP and More Madrid combined with a catastrophic collapse in the vote of the main party of the Spanish government? Why was there even a shift—unprecedented—of tens of thousands of PSOE voters to the PP? (This trend was most visibly symbolised by the unheard-of public desertion of the 1983-1995 PSOE premier of the Community of Madrid, Joaquín Leguina, to his party’s traditional enemy.)
Even a cursory analysis of the detail of the election results confirms how self-deceiving Iglesias’s narrative is. In 2019, the PSOE was the leading party in 107 of the Community of Madrid’s 179 municipalities. In its largest, Madrid itself, it was the lead party in 11 of the city’s 21 districts. On May 4, the PSOE emerged from the contest as the lead party in only two municipalities and in none of Madrid city’s 21 districts, including its “red belt”, centred on the Vallecas district (birthplace of Podemos).
The left bloc of PSOE, More Madrid and UP won a majority over the right (PP, Vox and Citizens) in only 18 of the 179 municipalities. Within Madrid city it managed to win a majority in only six of the capital’s 21 districts.
In no municipality or district of Madrid city was there a swing to the left: the rightward tide prevailed everywhere, with the smallest swings in those municipalities and districts where there had already been a 10%-plus swing to the right at the previous election. By the same token, where there had been 10%-plus swings to the left in 2019, the swing to the right at this poll was vicious—up to 24.7% in the case of the town of San Martin de la Vega. Some of the biggest swings to the right took place in traditional left strongholds like Getafe, Leganés and the district of Villa-Vallecas.
Until the results of post-election surveys become available, generalisations about the causes of this strong and uniform swing away from the governing PSOE should be treated with caution, but one hypothesis that can be discarded is that such a strong and shared preference for Ayuso was mainly the result of media demonisation of Iglesias.
A devastated PSOE
One force with a very deep interest in understanding what happened on May 4 is the PSOE: the depth of its loss has shaken Spain’s social democracy to the core. Right up until the vote-counting began its leading circles genuinely thought they were in with a chance of forming government in the Community of Madrid. However, the result, which was originally detonated by chief strategist Ivan Redondo’s “brilliant move” of trying to split the PP-Citizens government of the Region of Murcia, left them devastated.
Its actual result could hardly have been worse. Lead candidate Ángel Gabilondo dropped from winner of the 2019 poll to third behind the PP and More Madrid leader Mónica García. The campaign began with a lead candidate (Gabilondo) whose heart was not in the fight but on his ambition to become the Spanish ombudsman. Next came one more fruitless—and totally predictable—attempt to win over Citizens’ voters, but they all went over to the PP and even to Vox. When it became clear that this “turn to the centre” wasn’t working, the PSOE campaign swung to one of defending Madrid against the fascist threat—political theatre that Iglesias and UP could do much more convincingly. The result was inevitable: practically nothing picked up to PSOE’s right and tens of thousands of votes lost to its left.
A report of the PSOE’s post-mortem Federal Executive meeting in the May 8 El Mundo contained these revealing comments from “internal sources”:
If the problem were Iván Redondo or the candidate Ángel Gabilondo, or the general secretary of the Socialist Party of Madrid [PSM, the PSOE’s regional affiliate], José Manuel Franco—relieving them would be enough to solve the problem. It’s obvious that people are upset with Redondo over the design of the campaign. But the causes of the debacle go deeper. We didn’t see that the people were exhausted from the pandemic, that now the citizens can’t put up with the restrictions like a year ago. People want to live again. Our calculations failed miserably, we were misled by our survey numbers and went blindly to the polls believing in them. We clung to the idea of stopping fascism without understanding that no one is frightened by it. We let ourselves be carried away by Pablo Iglesias’s campaign and that was decisive in bleeding us. Ayuso knew how to connect with society’s state of mind but the left didn’t.
Some PSOE insiders feel their party could be in free fall:
The PSOE has been left without a floor. The party always had a strong floor of support, even in its worst moments. In Madrid, we’ve lost it. Now people vote for anyone, for More Madrid or even the PP. The polls are showing that voter fidelity and sympathy have gone through the floor. It’s a serious problem, very alarming.
For another source, the problem is the PSOE’s long-standing inability to connect with what is specific about the region around Spain’s capital: dominated by real estate, commerce and public administration and with little industry, it has been constructed as a social entity by 26 years of PP rule dedicated to privatisation, lowering taxes, and sucking business away from the rest of the Spanish state:
Many voters of Pedro Sánchez in the general elections voted for Mónica García in the regional elections. And Pablo Iglesias was deceiving himself about his ability to pull the leftist vote. It was not the unifying element we expected. The PSM has not been able to connect with the people of Madrid for a long time. We have a problem with Madrid as a concept. There is a growing Madridism among citizens. And now we have nothing left to call on. Madrid has become “Madrid DC”, and they have voted in that key. Isabel Ayuso and Mónica García are very consolidated leaderships while we will have to build one out of nothing.
At the time of writing, the Sánchez PSOE leadership has sacked Gabilondo and Franco and is seeking to distract attention from its Madrid debacle by starting a fight for leadership of its Andalusian branch, stronghold of Sánchez’s main opponent and chief regional “baron”, Susana Díaz. As for the mass disaffection revealed by the May 4 result, the PSOE tops are praying that it can be alleviated by the long-awaited arrival from Brussels of €140 billion in post-COVID reconstruction funds.
Roots of Ayuso’s success
The administration of the Community of Madrid has always had a triple function for the PP: as laboratory for its policies of privatisation and tax relief for the rich, as trough for the snouts of party heavies and their business mates—the last three Madrid premiers have been charged with crimes, with two now in jail for corruption—and as trench from which to rain shellfire on the PSOE when social democracy gets to run the Spanish government.
The result of this dominance is that Spain’s richest autonomous community (regional government) has the lowest spending per public school student, the highest rate of students repeating classes, the second lowest rate of per capita health spending, and the highest rate of private health insurance.
The pandemic provided Ayuso with a precious opportunity for showcasing a different approach to the emergency than that of the PSOE-UP administration. When in March 2020 Sánchez centralised all powers for tackling the pandemic, imposing a Spain-wide state of emergency and lockdown, Ayuso dragged her feet, even refusing the request of coalition partner Citizens for the army to be allowed to disinfect old peoples’ homes. (When the army disinfection units finally entered the homes they found horrific scenes of dead and dying.)
The PP leader’s response to the pandemic was to not to strengthen a public health system already short of staff and weakened by the attacks of her predecessors, but to rush the launch of a still unfinished hospital built at triple its original budget, even while relaxing lockdowns as Madrid’s toll of COVID victims became the worst in the Spanish state and the hospital system came under intolerable strain.
In May, when Sánchez gave some powers back to regional governments, Ayuso yielded to business pressure and eased the lockdown, causing Yolanda Fuentes, Madrid’s director-general of public health. to resign. In October, Ayuso’s minister responsible for nursing homes and her heads of primary health care and hospitals also departed, protesting premature easing of lockdowns and refusal to collaborate with the Sánchez government.
However, the attention of the Madrid premier was focused elsewhere, on the recipe for political success developed by her chief adviser, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the former spokesperson for the 1996-2004 PP government of José María Aznar. This was to mobilise two constituencies against the PSOE-UP government: those not affected by the COVID-19 crisis but fed up with the attendant lockdowns and business closures, and those who feared that a “socialist-communist” government would take away the PP’s years of tax breaks to the well-off.
Ayuso’s only policy proposal of note was a further reduction in taxes to help out Madrid’s wealthy, chief beneficiaries of the €48.292 billion in “tax savings” that her treasurer Javier Fernández Lasquetty boasted the PP had achieved between 2004 and 2018. Her two-point campaign message was that (a) she had restored life’s fun with her reopening of Madrid’s bars and restaurants and (b) if the left got into government, everyone would have to pay €2000 a year extra in taxes.
With polarisation intensifying after Iglesias’s entry into the contest, the Ayuso campaign took the form of a Trumpesque mix of bragging (“Madrid, an example to the world”); barefaced lying (“If it weren’t for Sánchez I would already have had Madrid 100% vaccinated”); virulent abuse of Iglesias (“born of evil to do evil”)—all under the campaign slogan of “communism or freedom”.
Ayuso also added a hip tone into what would otherwise have been a standard PP rant against the left. Asked on TV what she meant by “freedom”, the premier mentioned Madrid’s nightlife (reopened against the advice of epidemiologists) and not having always to bump into your ex (because Madrid is just so big and so cool). In one of her campaign ads, the Madrid premier appeared as a leather-clad biker, having a beer with the guys after the ride.
With this approach Ayuso recaptured former PP voters who had gone over to Citizens in the 2019 regional election, Vox voters because of her virulent opposition to Sánchez and Iglesias, PSOE voters opposed to Sánchez’s dealings with “communists” and “secessionists”, as well as people who had never bothered to vote because they didn’t see the point.
For example, Vox scored 18.5% (650,000 votes) in the November 2019 general elections in the Madrid region, a result halved on May 4; departing Citizens’ voters contributed half a million votes to Ayuso’s total of 1.62 million; some 55,000 votes of the 275,000 lost to the PSOE can only have gone to the PP; and half of those who had not voted in the 2019 general election told pollsters they would be voting for the PP this time.
Most notably, while the PP vote increased 2.2 times, it tripled among those between 25 and 55, giving the lie to the theorem that the PP is basically a party based on Spain’s older, more conservatively religious, generation. Symbolic was the sight at Ayuso’s victory celebration of a rainbow LGBTI flag being waved.
‘Why I voted for Ayuso’
Ayuso’s campaign was also proof against the mid-campaign attempt of UP, followed by the PSOE and less by More Madrid, to turn her slogan of “freedom or communism” against her with the slogan “democracy or fascism”. This shift followed Monasterio’s refusal to condemn the death threats against Iglesias, Vox’s publishing of a racist poster against unaccompanied underage refugees, and her own comment that doing a deal for government with Vox “wouldn’t be the end of the world”. Having started this warfare with her “communism or freedom” slogan, Ayuso now posed as the practical politician uninterested in ideological sloganeering.
It worked because the parties of the left had no common set of proposals with which to counter Ayuso’s “Madrid First” message and because belatedly posing the contest as one of “fascism or democracy” just looked like—and on the part of the PSOE was—crude and hypocritical vote-hunting. Most of all, the PSOE-UP administration was too blindly complacent about the benefits of its various anti-COVID economic measures to register the discontent that Ayuso exploited so crudely and so successfully against it.
For its May 9 edition, the pro-PSOE daily El País decided to send reporters into working-class and lower middle-class neighbourhoods to interview people who had changed their usual left vote to support Ayuso. The replies are revealing:
“The pandemic exhausted us, it left us tired and depressed. So many lockdowns, so many funerals, so many deaths. And this woman carried out a campaign of good cheer, she opened the businesses, she filled the streets … people want a bit of happiness.” (Pensioner)
“I voted for Ayuso because for me defence of individual freedoms is sacred.” (Well-known left-leaning Spanish artist on condition of anonymity)
“[Many cultural workers voted for Ayuso] because we want to work. If you knew how many famous reds voted for Ayuso, you would flip out. Not that they’re ever going to admit it.” (Theatre/cinema technician)
“I didn’t vote for the party, I voted for the candidate. I like that girl. I like the measures she’s taken, and she’s brave. I think [the PSOE] are hypocrites and phonies.” (Pensioner)
“She’s created jobs, she’s let the people live in peace, she’s built hospitals [a reference to a showcase epidemiological hospital inaugurated before it was completed] and she’s defended Madrid people. What’s more, the others are very bad.” (Editor)
“[Doing deals with the Republican Left (ERC) of Catalonia and EH Bildu] is a betrayal. I used to vote for the PSOE but this time I voted PP. I wouldn’t vote for them in general elections. But for Ayuso, yes. I made use of the punishment vote, a useful vote against Sánchez and Pony-Tail.” (Statistician)
According to a bar-owner who has always voted left and didn’t change on May 4, even if many of his clients did switch to Ayuso:
“They’ve bought the line that freedom is only possible with the PP. But at least twenty people who used to come into this bar from time to time died during the pandemic. Is that loss worth the price?”
A May 7 El País report on the tsunami-like shift that lifted the PP from fourth to first position in traditional “red” municipalities Fuenlabrada and Parla to Madrid’s south found four reasons for the shift: Ayuso was letting people work (“She’s might be crazy but she’s defending us”); freedom instead of lockdown (“Being able to go out, meet with friends in the bar”); Iglesias’s apparent hypocrisy in shifting from Vallecas to a chalet in a well-off suburb (“They criticise them and then they do the same—people are fed up”) and Iglesias seen as one more beneficiary of the political gravy train (“That gentleman with the pony tail in seven years has guaranteed himself an income for life.”)
More Madrid and UP shared the increase in the vote of the constituency to the left of the PSOE. The difference between these two trends, both born of Podemos, became clearer in this election, with More Madrid running an apparently “green” campaign and UP a familiarly “red” one. A feature of the result, however, is that More Madrid often picked up more support in the working-class and poor neighbourhoods that might have been expected to favour UP.
An important reason was that the core of the More Madrid campaign was its exposure of the Ayuso government’s criminal handling of the COVID pandemic, carried out with complete inside knowledge by lead candidate Mónica García. A hospital anaesthetist, García was the former spokesperson for the medical specialists association in the 2012-2014 war against PP plans to privatise Madrid’s public health system.
The clips of García’s interventions in the Madrid assembly, centred on a hapless PP health minister, went viral and established her, and not PSOE leader Ángel Gabilondo, as the effective leader of the opposition to Ayuso. According to polling she was also the candidate most valued by UP voters—above Iglesias—and according to viewer feedback the winner of the one televised candidate debate.
While not explicitly rejecting Iglesias’s framing of the election as a contest between democracy and fascism, the More Madrid campaign focused on popularising its 24 key policy proposals, one for each of the months until the next, normal, election is held for the Community of Madrid. These included a 32-hour working week, a payment for carers, a “Social-Public Amazon” providing a fair-cost distribution service to small business, and plans to boost public housing, reduce class sizes and achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Asked by the May 1 El País if More Madrid supported imposing a cordon sanitaire against Vox, García replied:
We are not going to fight on their terrain of creating turmoil. They thrive on turmoil, hatred, intolerance of what is different, hatred towards the LGBTI collective, towards women, towards unaccompanied migrant children. There’s a debate about what to do about the far right, whether to refute it or ignore it. I think it has to be refuted and confronted but, at the same time, we have to constantly avoid their terrain of turmoil. We in More Madrid try to ground politics in people’s daily concerns, where the far right hasn’t got any message or solutions. What’s happening in the health centres, in your children’s schools, in the old people’s homes? If we talk about reality, we can isolate them.
(This was a reference to an incident during the election campaign in which Vox sought to create a fight with anti-fascists by holding a street meeting in Vallecas and where Vox leader Abascal deliberately walked through the police line to provoke anti-fascist demonstrators, leading to a hail of stones and bottles being thrown and a number of arrests.)
Besides García’s performance as lead candidate, the other major factor determining More Madrid’s success was its organised presence in Madrid city’s 21 districts, which has its roots in the 2019 campaign for the city council. In the following two years More Madrid built up its activist core to the point that during the campaign for May 4 it could hold weekly meetings in all districts to explain its policies, in turn greatly expanding its base of sympathisers.
Writing in the May 7 Latin American edition of Jacobin, Anticapitalists’ leader Brais Fernández listed three causes for More Madrid’s success:
The first, is that it looks like something new, despite its experience in Madrid Council [which Now Madrid, its precursor, ran between 2015 and 2019 under mayor Manuela Carmena]; that does not make it pay a price but strengthens it, unlike the PSOE-UP, whose presence in the [Spanish] government weakens them. The second is that it connects with the specific political composition of Madrid, with its working class and enlightened middle class committed to the defence of the public sector, but also to the struggle for freedoms and civil rights. Although its leaders have an upper-middle class profile, More Madrid connects better with some heterogeneous and variegated working-class neighbourhoods that no longer match the stereotype of the old post-communist left. You only need compare the results of More Madrid and UP in working-class neighbourhoods like Orcasitas or Vallecas. Its campaign hit the mark because it connected with the set of political concerns of those it was addressing. UP appealed to the working class but did not connect with it. Thirdly, More Madrid had a candidate with a perfect profile for this sort of election.
When Iglesias left the post of second deputy prime minister to throw himself into a campaign to make sure that “they shall not pass” in the Community of Madrid, he raised the bar very high. Against such a goal, the actual result of a three-seat gain for UP appears like a miserable failure, even if Iglesias probably saved his organisation from joining Citizens in oblivion. In “normal circumstances” UP’s 80,000 extra votes would not be something to be sneezed at.
But what other outcome could realistically have been expected? UP’s result, followed by Iglesias’s election night departure from institutional politics, represents the exhaustion of a deeply mistaken and counterproductive political strategy. It is the end result of misconceiving the struggle to overturn the hegemony of the actual powers-that-be as one of getting “our people”—under the command of their charismatic, media-savvy leader—into government, even at a very high price in terms of demobilising and miseducating its social base.
The obsessional drive to occupy ministerial positions created what UP is today—an empty shell incapable of organising social mobilisation or even basic social implementation of the kind of which More Madrid is capable. And for what? Iglesias’s campaign speeches in Madrid extolled the work of the UP ministers and blamed the PSOE for the coalition government’s shortfalls, but how much of the working-class majority of Madrid was convinced by this message? Enough were swayed to keep UP from disappearing, more still preferred More Madrid’s focus on providing concrete alternatives to Ayuso, while tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, just preferred Ayuso’s message of “freedom”.
The strategic question once again posed by this bitter experience is what orientation the left convinced of the need to overturn the power of the capitalist minority should have to social democracy; that is, to the left that accepts the power of the capitalist minority as a fact of life.
In this light, the experience of the UP’s Madrid campaign has confirmed that the goal of becoming a junior partner in a PSOE government was always a very, very bad idea. The eventual “success” of that operation forced Iglesias to absurdly inflate the coalition administration’s achievements, presenting policies against the pandemic adopted by governments everywhere as precious gains unique to Spain, and to overblow Ayuso’s hard-right neoliberal opposition to the PSOE-UP government as “fascism”. This narrative jarred with the real experiences of most of the voters to whom it was being addressed.
Would it have been better if Pablo Iglesias had not “sacrificed himself” in the struggle to stop the right? Had he kept out of the election the PP and Vox might or might not have mobilised fewer votes on the basis of hatred of “Pony-Tail”, but it’s the question itself that is wrong: it would have been much better for the health of the struggle for social justice, sustainability and democratic rights if the goal of governing with the PSOE had never been adopted by UP, or acquired the degree of unquestioning acceptance that it has on the Spanish left.
Hopefully, the experience of the May 4 Madrid election and the resignation of Iglesias will help in the hard but indispensable work of rooting it out of progressive popular consciousness.
Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An initial version of this article has appeared on its web site.
Appendix: on the Community of Madrid
The Community of Madrid is centred on the Spanish capital and was originally just one of the Spanish state’s 50 provinces. It was the most artificial of the territorial structures set up at the end of the Franco dictatorship.
The main goal of that pseudo-renovation was to dilute the presence of Spain’s troublesome “historical nationalities”, chiefly the Basques, Catalans and Galicians: their homelands would be just four more among the 17 “autonomous communities” that would eventually form the post-dictatorship Kingdom of Spain.
Corresponding to states in the United States and Australia and provinces in Canada and South Africa, all the autonomous communities except Madrid gained formal legal existence through article 143 of the new Spanish constitution, adopted in 1978. The multi-province regions qualified by demonstrating “common historical, cultural and economic features” and the single-province regions by showing “historical regional identity”.
By these criteria Madrid should have been part of Castilla-La Mancha, but the leaders of that autonomous community rejected the Spanish capital’s pretension to a special status within it—Madrid would have overshadowed the region’s historical capital, Toledo.
Eventually, once the options of a Spanish version of Washington D.C. and direct rule by the Spanish state had been ruled out, the Spanish parliament founded the Community of Madrid under the constitution’s article 143—“for reasons of national interest”. There was no popular campaign for it and its symbols (hymn, flag and shield) were concocted at the time of its birth—to the mirth of the locals.
While under Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) rule of premier Joaquín Leguina between 1983 and 1995, the new entity basically operated as a sub-division of the PSOE’s Spanish state administration. That changed when the People’s Party’s (PP) uninterrupted 26-year run at the helm of the region began in 1995: from then on, in the words of Catalan historian Joan Culla “the inoffensive artefact kept growing and growing, ending up as a fearsome Terminator, one of the Spanish right’s most powerful war machines.”