Progressive Futures

What’s left in the May 4th Madrid elections?

21 April 2021

The May 4th elections in Madrid do not bode well for the Spanish left.

Iñigo Herrera

“The right-wing raised the banner of anticommunism and began to terrorise the future voters with horrible visions of what the country would look like in the event of the left winning (…) at the same time, however, the tension among the left-wing parties became progressively worse. Their propaganda dedicated just as much effort to vilify each other as they did the right-wing.”

-Arturo Barea, ‘The Clash’ (1941)

While this may be an apt description for the current state of Spanish politics in the run up to the regional elections in Madrid, scheduled for early May, this passage by Arturo Barea from “The Clash” describes the toxic climate of Spanish politics in the run-up to the infamous February 1936 elections which became the preface for the Spanish Civil War, the most brutal and enduring conflict in Spanish history.

In a manoeuvre that is telling of the fragility of the political alliances that exist across Spain, a no-confidence vote in the region of Murcia, triggered by the centrist Ciudadanos party, in conjunction with the centre-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, ended with Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) premier of the Madrid region, terminating her party’s alliance with Ciudadanos and calling for early elections. This could not have come at a worse time for the Spanish left.

Caught sleeping, PSOE scrambled to announce their candidate for the top job in the Madrid regional government, Ángel Gabilondo, a sober, intelligent, cultured, earnest and yet remarkably unremarkable politician, who would attempt to finally dislodge the right from the bastion that is Madrid, where the PP has been in power since 1995. Más Madrid, the party that was born out of internal disputes in the leftist Podemos and which almost doubled their vote in the last local elections in 2019, presented a more established set of candidates, as both Mónica García and Íñigo Errejón have been attempting to glue the left back together in preparation for the next elections. Podemos, the party that rose from the indignados movement in protests against austerity cuts in the midst of the financial crisis of a decade ago, now on the

In the most Trumpian way possible, Ayuso’s Twitter account fired off the initial shot in the campaign declaring: “SOCIALISM OR FREEDOM. MAY 4th.” The battle lines were drawn, and as Ciudadanos also seem poised to become extinct, all eyes were on the PP’s attitude to Vox, the far-right party that is upsetting the political landscape and quickly inhabiting the position of would-be kingmakers for the right.

Somewhere in the Moncloa Palace (the official residence of the Prime Minister of Spain), this tweet must have struck home, because Pablo Iglesias, founder of the Podemos party, who himself was named after another Pablo Iglesias who was a founder of PSOE, decided to throw his hat into the ring and present himself as the saviour of the Madrid left. Iglesias announced that Ayuso’s politics were not only useless, but harmful to Madrid and the rest of the nation, and that the time had come to dislodge the right from its stronghold in Madrid, lest they begin to govern together with the far-right Vox.

In keeping with the Trumpian style, Ayuso’s Twitter promptly changed its campaign slogan to “COMMUNISM OR FREEDOM. May 4th”.

All this came to be, as Barea described it in the initial passage, as the right wing showed themselves to be all too eager to set aside their differences and unite in a common front to beat the left in these elections. Meanwhile, the left had already begun to fight among themselves . While Iglesias suggested a common front on the left, identifying Más Madrid’s García as the strongest potential leader on the left,  García’s party balked at the idea, probably wishing to avoid tying themselves to the sinking ship that Podemos seems to be in in Madrid. Nonetheless, as no single party is poised to take a majority by themselves, even if the leftist block can beat the right, they will still have to work together to form a government. Otherwise, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, these parties are failing to prepare for the aftermath of these elections and consequently preparing to fail at them.

“Communism or freedom” is the now-established election slogan for the PP for the upcoming elections in Madrid. It seems that the candidates behind the motto have not read Arturo Barea’s “The Clash”. Or maybe they have?