Spain: Socialist Party’s failed maneuver triggers vital battle for Madrid

Master political strategist Ivan Redondo controls the tactics of the ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) so tightly, some observers joke that PSOE Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is nothing but a hologram generated by the laptop from Redondo.

Hire gunsmith Redondo counts Sánchez’s takeover of the PSOE leadership in 2017 and campaigns for the Conservative Popular Party (PP), including racially motivated operations that twice won him the main success. Catalan industrial town of Badalona.

However, Redondo’s last two games have been flops. In the Catalan elections on February 14, the ripple effect that was supposed to win the post of prime minister of the former Spanish health minister of the PSOE, Salvador Illa, triggered a backlash that increased the independence majority in parliament Catalan.

This failure was followed by the failure of the PSOE’s motion of censure against the ruling PP in the 45-seat Murcia regional parliament on March 18. The motion was presented under the pretext that its leaders had abused their positions to skip the COVID-19 vaccination queue.

The motion was supposed to have the support of the six deputies of the neoliberal citizens, but failed when the PP bought three of them with offers for ministerial posts.

The PP also hooked three dissident deputies of the reactionary xenophobic Vox. The bait was that the government would immediately bring forward the plan requiring school leaders to notify parents if their children were to be “exposed” to classes dealing with feminism or LGBTI diversity.

One of Vox’s dissidents has also been promised the post of education minister to oversee this enlightened plan, the first time a politician linked to Vox will hold a regional government portfolio.

The PSOE-Citoyens motion of censure then failed, by 21 votes to 23 and one abstention.

The plots implode

The fiasco had been conceived as a “clever ploy” between the PSOE and the citizens’ leader Inés Arrimadas – the citizens would get the post of Prime Minister of Murcia and the PSOE would get the town hall of its capital.

For the Sánchez government, a successful operation would also have reduced its dependence on the Spanish Congress on the voices of the more radical Unidas Podemos (UP) of Pablo Iglesias – an alliance of Podemos and the United Left – and the Catalan parties and Basque like the Republican Left. of Catalonia (ERC) and EH Bildu.

The gain for the citizens would have been his very first prime minister and his apparent restart as a centrist party ready to ally on the left or on the right “for the good of Spain”, thus achieving a product differentiation from the PP and to Vox.

This has always been big capital’s plan for the citizens – providing the business-friendly but “left” PSOE with a junior partner to its right. However, most citizen voters see their party as an alternative to the PP and not as an ally of the PSOE.

This was confirmed by the rain of resignations from citizens once the Murcia operation became known. These included deputies from the regional parliaments of Valencia and Madrid, a congressman and two senators – threatening citizens with the end of his senatorial group.

At the same time, the PP opened its doors to defective citizens, proclaiming itself a pole of attraction for the whole “center-right”.

Madrid as a zero point

The PSOE operation in Murcia aimed at detaching citizens from the PP raised the possibility that the same approach could be attempted in the three other regional governments where the main Spanish conservative party rules in alliance with the neoliberals – Andalusia, Castile – and-León and the region of Madrid.

However, Citizens’ Ministers in Andalusia resisted the temptation to risk their jobs, while in Castile and León, the PP government survived a March 22 motion of censure.

The most important battleground has been Madrid, where relations within the ruling PP-Citizens coalition have long been poor. PP Prime Minister Isabel Díaz Ayuso, fearing that she too would be the target of a censure motion, dumped her Citizens’ ministers on March 10 and called early elections for May 4.

PSOE and More Madrid (a creation of the soft left of former Podemos leader and rival Iglesias Iñigo Errejón) responded with a motion of censure, but Madrid’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the election had the preference.

Ayuso, a Spanish version of a young Margaret Thatcher, then announced that her campaign slogan would be “Socialism or Freedom”.

The citizens, fearing that they would not even reach the threshold of 5% representation in the Madrid assembly, decided to change their leader and replaced outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Ignacio Aguado with congress spokesperson Edmundo Bal.

The PP and Vox will now fight furiously in front of their wealthy voters in northern Madrid to see who is harder against “socialism”. The outcome will determine how many ministries fall to Vox after an election that all polls predict the PP would win.

Between Iglesias

The threat of an ultra-conservative coalition taking over the capital convinced Iglesias, Spain’s second deputy prime minister, to declare that he too would offer to run as the top candidate – for UP but also, hopefully, at the head of a united list of all forces for the left of the PSOE, including Plus Madrid.

Iglesias announced his upcoming departure from the Spanish government on March 15, named Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz as his successor and explained the stakes of the battle. They were: to prevent the fascist Vox from joining the corrupt PP in government; and overturning the Ayuso – Madrid business model as a national tax haven where capital is welcome to harness the workforce as best it can and to suck investment from the rest of the state.

Ayuso responded to Iglesias’ announcement by bragging that his impending resignation was his job and changing his campaign slogan to “Communism or Freedom”.

For the leader of the UP, the next competition will hopefully be a “battle for Madrid” reminiscent of the heroic Republican defense of the capital during the Spanish Civil War.

Iglesias’ campaign will focus on reactivating the working class southern suburb of Madrid and believing those battered by poverty and COVID-19 that it will be worth bothering to vote on the 4th may.

A huge increase in the turnout in lower-income neighborhoods is the only way to beat the PP – ruler of the Madrid region since 1995 -.

Polls since Iglesias’ announcement show the start of an Ayuso bias against Iglesias. During the past week, the voting intention of the six main parties has evolved as follows: PP, from 35.2% to 38.6%; PSOE, from 27.5% to 24.2%; Vox, from 13.4% to 11%; More than Madrid, from 11.9% to 10.8%; UP, 5.4% to 9.5%; and Citizens, from 4.9% to 4%.

These trends show that the arrival of Iglesias has taken UP out of the danger zone of non-representation, but has not yet increased the vote for the left at large (PSOE, More Madrid and UP).

The contest, however, is already polarized, with most of the former citizens’ voters now choosing the PP as their best defense against “communism” – to the point that the citizens could disappear. This change is reflected by UP winning over PSOE and More Madrid as the left’s best defense against the right.


However, serious obstacles stand in the way of a victory for the UP-led left, including the story of a bitter conflict within Podemos that led to the formation of More Madrid and the collapse of the Madrid organization of Podemos.

How many of these activists, with bad memories of their life in Iglesias’ descendant vote-grabbing machine, will bother to re-engage?

Iglesias’ announcement was also not very well received by those he might have expected to welcome his offer to captain the entire non-PSOE left.

Madrid candidate Mónica García said: “We women are tired of doing the dirty work to be asked to stay away in historic moments” and “we women have more than demonstrated that we know how to stop the extreme right without being coached “.

PSOE main candidate Ángel Gabilondo, calling on voters to abandon the sinking citizens, said on March 22: “Things being as they are now, I say ‘no’ to Podemos. I don’t want a climate of confrontation, of extremism, I sincerely don’t want that. Not with Iglesias, that’s my preference.

The campaign will be a decisive battle over taxation, defense and the extension of public services and the reliability of each candidate as a Spanish patriot.

Ayuso’s opening salvo was that “Iglesias is an independentist, close to the [Basque separatist] Milieu ETA, believes in expropriation, squatting, state intervention in business, promoting strikes and burning the streets of Madrid.

Iglesias will be in his element in the upcoming aerial combat, with all of Spain following the show. If UP and the left achieve a miraculous victory, it will present a precious opportunity to begin to reverse 25 years of PP corruption and cronyism.

However, even in this still unlikely case, an essential ingredient will be missing. As the anti-capitalists explained in a statement calling for a vote for UP or More Madrid: “To effectively overthrow Ayuso, we need broad social power, and this cannot be built with theatrical effects, but with effort, resources, openness and dedication. “

[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

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