Andalucia exposes the hole in the heart of the European Left

Andalucia exposes the hole in the heart of the European Left

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 3, December, 2018

THE BELEAGURED CAUSE of democratic socialism in Europe was hoping for good news from Spain. Left-wing parties have suffered a series of devastating reverses from Germany to Italy and in some countries, such as France and the Netherlands, have vanished as serious contenders for office. 

The left has paid the price for ignoring the aspirations and worries of its core working-class electorate. These concerns centred around not only jobs and pay but encompassed a growing number of issues related to the influx of migrants competing for scarce resources and altering the character of neighbourhoods.

If anywhere could offer reassurance to troubled left-wing souls, then surely it would be Andalucia. On 2 December it held the first of a series of important regional elections which will culminate in the Spanish general election in eighteen months time. Poll results nationally have been comforting for the left-wing government of Pedro Sanchez. This combative figure was installed as Prime Minister in June after the centre-right government lost its majority amidst a corruption scandal. 

Sanchez appeared to be playing a weak hand well. With only one-quarter of the seats in the Cortes, his Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) seemed capable of re-establishing its ascendancy after years in the political wilderness. The economy was slowly picking up after Spain was badly affected by the economic disruption caused by a malfunctioning Euro currency long geared to the needs of its strongest member, Germany. 

Sanchez sought to energise his base by politicising feelings around the destructive civil-war which 80 years ago was decisively lost by the left. It was thought that removing the remains of General Franco from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum near Madrid would appeal to the far-left and the nationalist-leaning regions where PSOE had been in retreat.

Andalucia had been largely anti-Franco in the civil-war and had been scarred by the hardship and misery which had stalked Spain for twenty years afterwards. For 36 years the Socialists had been in charge of the region. Control of the autonomous government meant that EU transfer funds passed through its hands. It became a party of patronage controlled by influential power-brokers.

PSOE's leader in the region, Susana Díaz (pictured), was a rival of the wily Sanchez who had snatched the national leadership from her. But the party closed ranks, knowing the importance of retaining control of Spain's largest region. This electoral test helps to explain why Sanchez dramatised the Gibraltar question as the agreement for Britain's departure from the EU was due to be signed by Britain and the EU. He threatened to withhold Spain's signature unless Britain ceded some ground to the country which had never dropped its claim to a strategic vantage-point that has been British since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.

But it was all political theatre meant for domestic consumption. The squall quickly abated as opaque undertakings were entered into by both sides.

This stunt exposed the weakness of the left. Sanchez is a flashy gambler who hopes to stay in power for a long time without altering his cynical deal-making party's modus operandi. He shows no eagerness to divide the cake with lower-income supporters or listen to their concerns about the flow of migrants from Africa and further afield. Like colleagues across the Socialist world he is more concened about the dash he cuts in international progressive circles. Thus, when Italy announced this summer that its ports would be barred to boats carrying migrants setting out from Libya, Sanchez announced that Spain would allow them to dock. Unsurprisingly, the people smuggling route transfered to its Andalucian coast. 

Clearly, the Spanish left did not expect there to be any electoral blowback. Anti-immigrant parties had not made headway in Spain. It was one of the few areas in Europe where the nationalist right was in the wilderness. 

But all that changed with devastating suddeness when the Vox party, only three years old, came from nowhere and won twelve seats and 10 per cent of the vote. The polls had anticipated that its very best showing would be five seats. But in the event Vox took lots of votes from the Socialists, many of whose former supporters stayed at home disappointed at the arrogance of the party. PSOE lost nearly one-third of its seats and its far-left competitor and government ally Podemos also fell back. 

Nor was it a good night for the Partido Popular, hitherto with a monopoly on the right, which lost seven seats. But it now has the chance to rule in Andalucia which is the only region of Spain where no substitution in office has occurred during the long era of political decentralization. The left is well short of a majority and the Popular party has said it will negotiate with Vox about the shape of a new government. 

The cooperation of the centrist Ciudadanos party will be needed for a right-led government to rule from Seville. It is the other big electoral winner of the night. The party had sprung up to offer an alternative to the left and centre-right blocs who were seen as having misgoverned Spain. It emerged as the chief challenger to Catalan separatism (the party's birthplace being Barcelona), and it has made headway by asserting the unity of Spain.

The leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal might be best advised to hold back and not demand government seats at this moment. His party is inexperienced. Better perhaps to secure concessions which would require Andalucia to take a tougher line against illegal immigration and to carry out reforms after 36 years of increasingly inflexible Socialist rule.

This crucial electoral contest has not only dashed the hopes of the European left but it will have made separatists and their allies elsewhere in Spain realise that secession will be tougher than ever to accomplish. 

Nationalists in Scotland banking on Spain lifting its objections to an independent Scotland joining the EU, will get no consolation from this result. It shows the unpopularity of the moves by arrogant elites to alter the demography of cities and communities by pursuing open borders. It also shows how populations revolt when decentralization meant to improve governance is instead used by shallow elites for material advantage or to pursue policies which are alien to the common good. 

Tom Gallagher co-edited Southern European Socialism, Manchester University Press 1989 and his latest non-fiction work is Scotland Now: A Warning to the World (2016). His twitter account is @cultfree54

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