The regional election in Madrid has shown the continuing danger from the right in Spanish politics.
The conservative People’s Party (PP) doubled its vote to 45 percent, nearly winning an overall majority in the Madrid assembly.
Its candidate Isabel Díaz Ayuso stood on a platform that embraced Spanish nationalism, neoliberal politics and opposition to Covid-19 restrictions. This was summarised by Ayuso’s slogan, “Freedom or Communism”.
Ayuso has used her position as Madrid mayor to challenge the centre-left coalition national government’s limited attempts to implement measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
She refused to close down bars and restaurants in the capital even at the height of lockdown restrictions.
This resonated with retail and hospitality bosses and small owners who rallied behind her campaign. The months leading to the election saw the right organise big mobilisations demanding an end to restrictions.
Since the pandemic started, at least 15,000 have died of Covid just in the Madrid region. The region has currently one of the highest infection rates in the country.
The far right Vox party, which includes fascist elements, also gained an extra seat, rising from 12 to 13 seats. The PP will rely on its support to govern in Madrid.
All of this will pull politics further to the right.
The election underlined the weakness of the left.
The governing Socialist Party (PSOE), similar to the Labour Party in Britain, saw its vote share fall by ten percentage points to 17 percent.
Its junior partner, Podemos, achieved just 7 percent, despite party leader and founder Pablo Iglesias standing for election in the region. Iglesias came fifth and announced his resignation from all his remaining posts and from politics following the result.
Both parties have paid the price for their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in office. Elected in the hope of leaving behind years of austerity and job losses, as managers of Spanish capitalism PSOE and Podemos have in practice prioritised the interests of capital.
This has led to one of the highest infection rates in Europe and economic hardship for ordinary people.
Although voters’ turnout was overall very high, the poorest boroughs registered the lowest turnout. The right was more successful in enthusing and mobilising its base.
Mas Madrid, a split from Podemos, achieved the best vote within the left with 24 seats. It benefitted from not being associated with the record of the Spanish government.
But the combined vote of the three left parties was way below that of the right.
The Spanish state has been in a perpetual state of turmoil since the economic crisis of 2008. The traditional parties and institutions such as the monarchy have been rocked by corruption scandals. Even the existence of a unified Spanish state has been called into question by the movement for independence in Catalonia.
At first, this worked to the left’s advantage.
But Podemos’s focus was on winning elections, not on building the mass movement on the streets.
Mass mobilisations against the far right, and a left that learns the lessons from the experience of Podemos, will be crucial to turn the tide against the right.