Newcomer  Vox vows to end the fiesta against Spain

Newcomer Vox vows to end the fiesta against Spain

by Tom Gallagher
article from Saturday 27, April, 2019

MUCH OF THE  democratic discontent across the West stems from the absence of  political outlets for citizens who are rooted in their communities and whose attachments to the nation-state still easily outweighs affinities with global brands, institutions or lifestyles.

Next Sunday is likely to see a successful debut for a party that unabashedly champions Spaniards who are uneasy about the sway ever-more radical forms of feminism enjoy in public laws, prefer their children’s schooling to possess a Spanish ethos, and who fear that opportunistic politicians could make Spain ungovernable by conceding too much to regional politicians, some of whom clearly wish to break away from Spain. 

The Vox party styles itself as a cultural social and patriotic movement at the service of Spain. It has only been in existence since 2013 and its rapid rise has been boosted by growing impatience with the lack of real choices  in politics.

On the centre-right the Popular Party’s  (PP) seven years in office showed it to be a bland technocratic party that was ready to placate radical  lobbies by giving them huge sway over social policy.

It lost office last June due to a corruption scandal and was replaced by its main left-wing rival the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) which has become a citadel for political bosses and their clients in Spain’s 17 well-endowed regional administrations. It also shares with the far-left party Podemos control of a swarm of interest groups which espouse post-national causes from the environment to various forms of group liberation. It has no economic vision for a country badly needing fresh  impetus after being mauled by the Eurozone crisis.  Instead, it is carving out a new edgy profile by reviving civil-war memories. The only memorable initiative of its demagogic leader Pedro Sanchez has been to promise to remove the remains of former dictator Franco from the state mausoleum where they have  lain since his death in 1975. 

It was the attempted break-away of Catalonia thirty months ago which transformed  Spanish politics. Middle-class radicals from education, media, the law and the third sector had fashioned a power-base from an advanced form of autonomy and it was assumed at least by some that breaking away from an enfeebled Spanish state would not be hard to engineer.

However, the  previously complacent government of Mariano Rajoy, egged on by the King and backed by key agencies of the state -  the military and the judiciary - defeated the rebellion and Catalonia has remained quiet though bitterly divided.

 A stale political model was broken though. Ciudadanos (Citizens), a liberal pro-Union force, with roots in Catalonia itself, was already soaring in popularity and threatening the precarious hold on power of the minority Sanchez government.  The first big electoral test in this new climate came in Andalucia: in power for 36 years, the Socialists were ousted. The kingmaker was the Vox party. It won twelve seats and gave power to the centre-right parties after a feisty campaign in which it assailed the ruling left for imposing its radical social norms on an unwilling populace.

 Vox has stayed in the limelight ever since. Following the defeat of Sanchez’s budget and his decision to call early elections in  February, it has rolled out an effective electoral machine. On social media, ranging from You Tube and Instagram to Facebook and whatspp, the number of hits it receives far exceeds any other party. It may have been excluded from  the two television debates involving the party  leaders because it won no seats at the last election but its leader Santiago Abascal has filled large halls across Spain with thousands outside unable to get in.

43-year-old Abascal is undeniably macho. Promotional videos have shown him with bullfighters and in a range of sporting poses. But this son of a clothing shop owner in a small Basque town is an eloquent speaker who flourishes without props. On Wednesday night before a capacity crowd in Valencia he promised an end to the festival against Spain Many think his party has a real chance of getting into third place perhaps with a percentage score in the high teens. He is able to reach out not not just to rural and small-town traditionalists but to  people in business and the professions who feel politics has become the only growth industry, to women unimpressed by the design for living offered by  militant feminists and to young people demoralised by decades of very high youth unemployment. 

Vox has broken out of its fringe status by recruiting candidates who include retired military officers, as well as architects and historians, and an economist previously with the Bank of Spain.  Its main candidate in Barcelona is 32-year-old businessman Ignacio Garriga who originates from Equatorial Guinea on his mother’s side.  He will also be standing for mayor of the city, up against the left-wing incumbent who denied  Vox the use of one of the city’s main concert venues for a recent rally.

The far-left refrain that Vox is a reincarnation of fascism now informs some of the coverage in the mainstream global media. But only in a few isolated corners of Spanish life is there any devotion to Franco. Spain has lacked any kind of organized far-Right for forty years. The success of Vox  springs from a desire to upgrade and improve the democratic system rather than to plunge back to pre-democratic times. A lot of Spaniards have lost their patience with the current political class. They see special interests with ideological zeal as enjoying too much precedence over citizens with more pressing needs. Many who will vote Vox may not agree with Abascal’s call to deal firmly with those who would break-up Spain but they are tired of the huge amount of resources being ploughed into making Spain a semi-federal state with not much to show for it after forty years. 

Calls for a ‘useful’ vote to ensure there is a workable majority or the non-socialist vote isn’t split, no longer exert a spell over many Spaniards. Many no longer see Spain as a fragile democracy with chaos just around the corner.  They are prepared to endure some disruption if there is a chance that more serious, upright and independent-minded politicians come to the fore who are prepared to energetically tackle the problems that accumulate under political forces that occupy office as a divine right. 

Abascal received a boost early in the campaign when he was invited to Poland to be  publicly received by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the governing party.  It is doubtful if such a prestigious meeting would have been possible if Vox  had any murky Russian links. It likes a federal Europe no more than it does a federal Spain but has otherwise no strong views on the EU.  It is for free enterprise and a less bloated state.  It does not want to restore the Catholic Church to the position of influence it enjoyed fifty years ago. But it wishes to protect private education which is mainly Catholic and it recognises that Spain is still very much a culturally Catholic country as anyone there in Holy Week can still see. 

Vox has well over 50,000 members now. A year ago it hardly had 5,000. It will be difficult  to create a disciplined party as it faces elections, national, European and autonomous in quick succession over the next few months.  But  there is a demand for a party that represents politically unaffiliated and moderate Spaniards who believe in free enterprise and democracy but find the status quo has nothing to offer. If Vox is able to surf this tide of change it could  help to renew a democratic system that has grown arrogant and open a better chapter in the political life of Spain.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Bradford University. His biography of the Portuguese autocrat, Oliveira Salazar, will be published by Hurst and Co in 2020. (His twitter account is @cultfree54 )

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