Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It has been a long election season in Spain and a very painful one for the socialist party PSOE although it has to be said that the far-left Izquierda Unida has benefitted at their expense.

It all started last May when the centre right Partido Popular swept to power in numerous town halls and regions. The general election was held at the end of November and the PP carried on their anticipated charge ousting PSOE from power and securing an overall majority. The third and last election comes this month in Andalucía and whilst the opinion polls point to yet another PP rout there is cause for optimism in left of centre ranks.

The general election was to be held this month but the outgoing PSOE premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero moved it forward to November. Traditionally Spain and Andalucía poll on the same day but the socialist administration in Sevilla decided to stick with the original date: a decision which may yet pay off.

When the PP swept to power in November I observed that voters hadn’t swung behind the centre right party: its vote rose by just 4.69 per cent. What had happened is that four million of them, or 15.11 per cent, abandoned PSOE. Some voted for the IU, some for other smaller parties, some switched to the PP but the vast majority just didn’t bother to vote at all.

The reality check came for the PP on Sunday February 19 when there were major demonstrations in 58 cities, including thousands marching through the centre of Madrid, all protesting against the government’s draconian new employment laws. Ironically the Partido Popular was holding a triumphalist congress in Sevilla ahead of the Andalucía regional government elections The PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was forced to rush on to the stage to defend his government’s changes to these laws. However the rapid disenchant with his administration is not going to go away. Spain’s two main unions, the UGT and CC.OO, have called a general strike for March 29 just days after the Andalucía elections and the day before Rajoy’s government presents its first budget which will hit workers, their families and the disadvantaged still further.

So can PSOE ride on the back of this growing public anger with its new government? The opinion polls suggest they can and they are. The problem is the PP has built up such a lead it might not be possible to close it in the days to come.

In October of last year, just ahead of the general election, the PP recorded its highest positive response with opinion pollsters since the 2008 Andalucía elections with the support of 49.4 per cent of voters. In contrast PSOE was at its lowest on 34.8 per cent.

However since then the polls are moving in PSOE’s favour although they are still way behind. The February sounding puts the PP on 45.2 per cent (down 4.2 per cent) whilst PSOE moves to 36.9 per cent (up 2.1 per cent). If that swing continues to polling day then the result could be far closer than at first envisaged.

On the February figures it is estimated that the PP will win between 54 and 57 seats. PSOE would lose power with between 44 and 47 seats. The only other party likely to pick up any seats is the far left Izquierda Unida with 8.4 per cent of the vote giving it seven to eight seats.

Yet if voters are moving back to PSOE then the gap between the parties will close and whilst the PP might win the most seats it might not have sufficient to take power if the ruling PSOE forms a coalition with the IU.

One other slither of encouragement for PSOE comes in the valuation by voters of the party’s respective leaders. The PSOE leader and current president of Andalucía José Antonio Griñán gets a favouring level of 4.6 out of 10 from voters. In contrast the PP leader is behind on 4.5 and he also trails Pilar González of the Partido Andalucista on 4.7 and Diego Valderas of the IU on 4.6.

Much hope for a socialist revival in Europe is being pinned on Hollande in the French presidential election over the end of April and the start of May. However if PSOE, may be with the support of Izquierda Unida, can hold power in Andalucía then perhaps people will rightly say the fight back started here.


The centre right Partido Popular’s election material called for change – after all Andalucía had been ruled by the socialists for 30 years. The voters agreed: except instead of swinging to the right as in the Rajoy and Arenas game plan – they moved to the far left.

Yes the PP was the largest party on 50 seats but they were swamped by the combined forces of the left on 59 with over 50 per cent of the vote.

What happened on Sunday was that the PP’s vote collapsed to 40.66 per cent (50 seats) whilst PSOE rose from 36.9 to 39.53 (47 seats). However the real victors in many ways were the far-left Izquierda Unida which won 12 seats (up six) with 11.35 per cent of the vote. Hence those dissatisfied PSOE voters instead of switching to the centre right moved to the far left. It appears that in left wing Andalucía a Partido Popular government was just too much change and it is arguable that the party of the smug Arenas has peaked and will now decline back to its natural base.

(Above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 23 2012 and versions have appeared in other publications).

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I want to beg the question: has Europe abandoned the left? It was a theme that was widely discussed at the Fabian Society’s recent conference – Social Europe: worth fighting for? There seemed to be an intellectual gloom that at this time of crisis it is the centre right governments that are in power.
In her keynote speech Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister Emma Reynolds stated: “... let me say something about the crisis of European social democracy. In the 27 member states of the European Union, centre left parties are only leading in 3 member states and in coalition in 3 others. In contrast in 1999, 11 out of 15 government in the then EU were on the centre left

“But as social democrats we cannot be content to be successful only in times of economic growth and prosperity, we have to develop a narrative and policies which start to resonate with people in difficult economic times too.

“We must combine fiscal credibility, a strategy for growth and social justice. The centre right have demonstrated that austerity alone is self defeating.”

Now of course politicians and political parties see success solely as being in government: hence the hard figures presented by Emma Reynolds. However if we are concerned whether the people of Europe have abandoned the left these heads of government counts are rather misleading.

I would argue that in many cases the voters have not rejected socialism but the government that was in power when the economic crisis hit. In 2009 in the early days of the on-going world-wide crisis Labour was defeated in the UK. There is much breast beating about it being Labour’s worst showing since God knows when or 1983. True but I wonder if this is being dwelt on because it suits a renewal agenda rather than the true situation with the electorate.

The Labour Government was unpopular because of the crisis and because voters did not like Gordon Brown. Yet even in this scenario the Conservatives under David Cameron could not win an outright majority; they had to rely on a centre left party to take power and indeed there is widespread political opposition amongst the electorate to much of their right wing agenda. It is significant that this opposition is articulated more by the trade unions from the more radical Unite to the conservative BMA than by the Labour Party. It is also arguable that had Labour been led by a new leader in 2010 and lost then the party would have had enough seats to still govern in a coalition with the Lib Dems. So is socialism and progressive politics dead in Britain? Hardly. If you add the poll percentages for Labour and the Lib Dems at the 2010 general election “the left” had 52 per cent, a clear majority over the Conservatives on 36.1 per cent.

In Spain in November it was no surprise that the centre right Partido Popular came to power. The writing had been on the wall for a long time. The PP now governs with a clear majority but let us look at the facts. The PP’s vote rose only by 4.69 per cent. The reason the socialists lost is that four million or 15.11 per cent of its supporters abandoned the party. Only a few voted for the PP, others switched to the far left Izquierda Unida alliance which  picked up new seats, some voted for minority parties but the majority simply did not vote.

So is socialism dead in Spain? Certainly not. On Sunday February 19 the PP and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were shocked when there were major demonstrations in 58 cities, including thousands marching through the centre of Madrid, all protesting against the government’s new employment laws. As the Partido Popular held a triumphalist congress in Sevilla ahead of the Andalucía regional government elections Rajoy was forced to rush on to the stage to defend his government’s changes to these laws. The protestors are not going to go away and the UGT with CC.OO unions have promised widespread protests which will probably culminate in a national general strike in the months to come.

It must be the shortest honeymoon in political history. The fact is the electorate punished the PSOE government for presiding over the economic collapse of the country but it is giving no slack to the PP government either. Traditional socialist and left wing forces are at work but as in Britain it is the trade unions that are speaking for them. People are angry over having no jobs. They want to be able to put food on their families’ tables. They want to be able to pay their mortgage and rent. They want to heat and light their homes. They are furious that the finance companies are repossessing homes, making people homeless, yet these unfortunate people still owe the banks over 100,000 euros for a home they no longer have: instead they are on the streets. Yet these same banks are handed massive bailouts and their sacked executives seek millions of euros in compensation. It may be the unions and not PSOE that are leading the fight: but it is certainly a socialist left of centre battle.

In her speech to the Fabians Emma Reynolds stated: “The presidential election in France in May presents a great opportunity for Francois Hollande to spark a revival of the centre left in Europe. Only then will social democrats have the chance to start shaping the debate about Social Europe and return Europe back to growth and prosperity.”

For France to elect a socialist president would certainly change the face of European politics given the central role the country plays in the EU. It would also give social democrats a new impetus: yet the socialist heart still beats strong in Europe and socialists are shaping the debate: it is just that they have given up on the traditional socialist parties and are taking the fight in to their own hands.

It is only the arrogance of political leaders and their parties that see a defeat for Brown and Labour along with that of Zapatero and PSOE as signalling the death of socialism. Socialism and progressive politics burns in the hearts of the people of Britain and Spain, the majority of people in fact - perhaps now more than ever.

There are many “Christians” in Europe who reject outright organised religion: in the same way there are millions of socialists who will still fight for their beliefs but see organised parties as part of the problem not the solution. European socialists may have abandoned their parties but they have not abandoned socialism.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on March 8 2012).