At the end of 2015 the Spanish people went to the polls and the result was inconclusive. The centre-right Popular’s Party won the most seats but there were no parties that were willing to join them in a coalition government. PSOE, Spain’s centre-left party finished second and also couldn’t form a government. After weeks of intransigence a second general election was called and will be held on 26th June. The campaign has recently restarted but already there are lessons that can be learned for parties overseas.
One of the first things that this second election has brought about is something that left-wing parties across the world need to do. The left-wing populist party Podemos has joined forces with the Spain’s newest green party eQuo and the existing radical leftist party, the United Left, in an electoral coalition in an attempt to break the deadlock. The new coalition will be appropriately named Unidos Podemos, or Together We Can. This is a positive step because it prevents the left-wing vote being split and it increases the number of grassroots activists on the ground.
When Podemos fought in the December 2015 election as a single party, it won 69 of the Deputies. The interesting thing is that a recent poll by the company JM&A found that, if current levels of support hold steady, Unidos Podemos will win 88 seats. Not only is this a massive improvement on December, but it would put Unidos Podemos as the second largest party as the same poll estimated that PSOE would win 73 seats, thus making PSOE the junior partner in any left-of-centre coalition.
The other interesting part of this poll was that it predicted that the other insurgent new party, the Ciudadanos, would gain more ground on the Popular Party. This poll puts the Ciudadanos on 52 seats, with the PP down to 112 seats. If this turns out to be true then Rajoy will be in an even worse negotiating position and will definitely lack the ability to form a government. The Ciudadanos are unlikely to go into coalition with Unidos Podemos so unless the Popular Party can pick up more potential seats and form a majority, the most likely scenario will be a left-of-centre coalition of some kind.
If Unidos Podemos are able to come to power Spain has to potential to be transformed. In economics the party has decried the austerity of the Rajoy government and will seek to renegotiate the debt the country has incurred with its creditors, introduce controls for lobbyists, and institute more punitive measures against tax avoidance. On the environment the alliance wishes to reduce Spain’s reliance on fossil fuels, stimulate local food production, and begin a campaign to increase the usage of public transport instead of driving. On constitutional issues the alliance wants to amend some of Spain’s trade deals in order to prevent outsourcing and promote referenda on major changes such as one on Catalan secession.
Obviously all of these policies would not be implemented, as they would be in a coalition government, however I do not personally see how a centre-left party like PSOE could argue against much of what Unidos Podemos is proposing. It is important that activists make this case, because if there is a situation where Pablo Iglesias is the next Spanish Prime Minister, he will need a strong grassroots movement behind him.
This is the essence of what should be learned by other left-wing parties around the world. As well as having the right agenda to transform a society, parties must remake themselves. People are no longer willing to be members of political parties that demand absolute loyalty from its membership; electoral coalitions of like-minded people need to be formed and these coalitions must stand for election. In addition these coalitions need to have a grassroots movement behind them with energised activists getting the message out and bringing out the vote on election day.
Without such movements the existing party structures will resist a more radical agenda, and situations will develop, as they have done in Britain with the Labour Party, where the insurgent leadership is hamstrung by less radical elements within the party. The grassroots movement therefore has three purposes: to remake the party in its ideological image; spread the word about the party’s platform; and to bring out the vote on election day.