Postcard from Madrid: Podemos has done up its top button, now it needs to put on a tie

Jeremy Corbyn has, since being elected Leader of the Opposition, experienced a crisis in reconciling his radical politics with the wider want of the general public. He’s been reluctant to dissociate himself from perceived radicals such as the Stop the War Coalition (just as Podemos have with the likes of Syriza and President of Ecuador Raffael Correa), has refused an invitation to the CBI conference (citing prior engagements, despite him being invited the day he was elected party leader), has had to relent to party pressure on a free vote on Syria bombing and so on and so forth.

He has repeatedly been asked to compromise on his radical politics, and he has had great difficult in doing so.
Podemos need to better prepare themselves for opposition, by being able to answer the difficult questions that Corbyn has struggled with. Four years of a PP and Ciudadanos government poses a tremendous opportunity for Podemos to become Spain´s second party, however in order to do so they need to tweak their approach, without losing the impassioned support that they’ve already acquired.

They’ve already embarked on this journey by abandoning two of the more radical proposals from their European elections manifesto, as well as reassessing a debating system which gives the same worth to a proposal from one individual member as one from a “circle” of 30 or 50 people.

There’s no doubt that further refining their message without losing their existing support will be a tough act to achieve, however it is possible for them to do so without becoming part of “la casta”; it´s not a contradiction in terms. They need to both consolidate their central tenets – the anti-corruption, anti-austerity, pro-democracy elements – whilst phasing out their less popular traits – muddled hierarchy and system of inclusion, as well as suspicious ties to other parties abroad.

Sure, it’s very noble to recognise other parties who are passionate about similar politics to yourself, but there´s no benefit to repeatedly allying yourself with unpopular and suspicious leaders and parties. Podemos need to know the answer to a question that Corbyn still seems to be struggling with: do you want to be a party of permanent opposition or one of leadership?

Podemos can give their voters everything they want, whilst also appealing to a wider, less radical audience, if only they do away with the frippery. It’s about adopting the mentality of a winner, and becoming a serious contender.

Iglesias and co. have been very good at talking the talk so far – my favourite quote of Pablo Iglesias´ is that “Heaven is not taken by consensus, it is taken by assault” – however now they need to prove that they are more than just a party of protest.

Luis Allege had an equally interesting quote when he said that “The group that wins the battle for hatred of the political establishment, has won the game”. If this is Podemos´principal mantra then it seems as though they might be playing the wrong game. To become Spain´s chief political party you´re required to do more than win the battle for hatred, and neither is it plausible to take government by “assault”. Politics is and always will be a practice of compromise, it’s time for Podemos to convert the fantastic into the realistic, and match impassioned rhetoric with actionable policies.

* Sam Postlethwaite is a Liberal Democrat member with an interest in Spanish politics.

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19 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 20th Dec '15 - 1:32pm

    Some while ago a British group of Liberal Democrats led by Russell Johnson went to Spain to try to help in an election. The system was party list, so, it was argued that in Greater Madrid an MP could be elected on about 3% of the vote, but was not

  • Agree with Martin – the story of this election is the rise of the centrist liberal Ciudadanos (ALDE), not sure why we should be wishing the anti-austerity leftists of Podemos well.

  • Denis Mollison 20th Dec '15 - 2:03pm

    Greg – Because some Lib Dems are anti-austerity leftists?

  • Michael McGrade 20th Dec '15 - 2:51pm

    As many others have pointed out, it is quite unusual for a Liberal Democrat to be banging the drum for a party like Podemos. I personally disagree with the rather rash and populist policy with which the party has built its support. However,I hasten to add that this is what the contribution page says regarding this matter:

    “Lib Dem Voice does not belong to any supposed wing of the party: it is a neutral platform where the views of all members are welcome, both as articles and comments.”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Dec '15 - 2:57pm

    Indeed, Michael. LDV welcomes contributions from party members. Sam’s articles are well-written and give one point of view. You might want to read Hannah Bettsworth’s article on what we could learn from Ciudadanos, which has just gone up, or indeed Martin’s from the other day. Bwtween Sam, Hannah and Martin, we’ve had some knowledgeable high quality coverage of the Spanish election and that has to be a good thing.

  • David Blake 20th Dec '15 - 9:25pm

    The ‘liberal’ party – Citizens – was described on the news tonight as centre – centre right. That is not where the Lib Dems sit. If it is, I’m in the wrong party.

  • I’m inclined to take with a pinch of salt any statement in this country’s news about the positions of parties in other countries — especially liberal parties. Often this is defined by their political opponents who may have their own agenda (remember that the UK political commentariat largely accepted as fact ANC propaganda about our sister party in South Africa being racist when the DA originally became the official opposition there), or it is relative to the general political consensus in their country. Spain in general has a more statist economic consensus than this country; you would expect a liberal party to challenge it by supporting more open markets.

  • Peter Galton 21st Dec '15 - 11:40pm

    While I think that there is a lot we can support of what the C’s stand for they may not be quite like us completely !!!. My Spanish friends were supporting Podemos or left wing party’s in Galicia. They told me that what I think what a Liberal is, is not what they may think of what a Liberal is ?.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Dec '15 - 4:07pm

    I don’t agree with everything any of the main parties in Spain say, but if I had a vote in their recent election I think I’d have voted for Podemos. I am a generally left wing Liberal and I am anti-austerity which is turning out to be a bigger and bigger disaster. We have a LD member in Pendle who had a vote and I think he did indeed vote for Podemos.

    Having said that I very much welcome the rise of both Podemos and Ciudadanos since they give people more of a democratic choice, breakdown the arid binary system of the Popular Party Tories and the dead-on-their-feet social democrats, and channel anti-system protest into democratic channels rather than the far right.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Dec '15 - 4:08pm

    The political word Liberal in Spain does indeed, for historical reasons, have a different meaning to how we use it here.

  • So many good comments and so many bewildering tendencies abound re Europe and the world ! Spain is , like Greece , on its knees , it won t face up to realty so the answer , economic fantasy ?! It s the genuine poor who suffer , the struggling , left out , so the left wing can have their fun ! I know this from my father s country , Italy in the past , maturing only under the very moderate centre left . Otherwise ,its interests , jam today and tomorrow , illiberal restrictive practices in professions , so youngsters were slow to join , retirement middle aged , inability easily to register a small business , closed shop , you could nt even get paracetamol in a shop other than an official pharmacy because the chemist liked his status ! The same countries that favour welfare that s great and lasting if you ve worked for years and have lost your job and not for the so called un deserving poor. If Podemos were here our moderate and left wing Liberal s and Liberal Democrats would call them Populist, for they are , not only that many are ex communist or socialists of the kind that would bankrupt Spain . I admire their being in tune , we could do more of that on issues like the EU and immigration where I believe elites really are out of touch , especially in corporate businesses , but three party politics in Spain , as here , holds enough possibilities , who needs fantasy football !!!

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Dec '15 - 8:04pm

    It is interesting that people like this who attack new movements on the left do so in such old-fashioned ways, simply resorting to insults without actually challenging what they are saying. Incidentally I think Cuidadanos in this country would be considered centre-right, certainly further to the right than the Liberal Democrats.

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Dec '15 - 9:29pm

    Tony Greaves 22nd Dec ’15 – 4:08pm “The political word Liberal in Spain does indeed, for historical reasons, have a different meaning to how we use it here.” And so it is around the world. The ruling party in Japan was not accepted into the Liberal International, itself a broad church.
    The Freedom Party in Austria was pressurised into resigning their membership.
    Please note that the Liberla government in Canada is taking 25,000 refugees, although Canada does not have a frontier in the Med., nor indeed with any of the countries currently complaining about needing to honour their internatioanl obligarions.

  • LORD GREAVES I NEVER , unlike many , though , few , here , thank goodness, insult anyone , either to them , or unlike some , and too many in this and any party , about them , either , and I have not above . Where I have criticised it is factual at best , maybe , could we allow , sarcastic , at worst . As for being old fashioned , I am more or less a generation younger than you , your usual criticism of the generation clegg is it s importing ideas in the party that have not been a part of it in past , or recent past years . I believe what I said above to be heart felt concern , a timeless one for idealism that endangers a country , financially , and based on , as I said , looking at areas like Italy , where my father was from , and which has avoided total disaster by staying at least centre left . THAT, the centre , left ,by the way , and not from some rabid libertarian right is where I , to utilise a MODERN expression , self identify .

  • ps, LORD GREAVES, thank you for bothering to read regularly on here , if you look at my contributions on here , whether you agree with me or not, and I often disagree with your views , and agree too also , sometimes ,may I add , though , that you shall see the extent of my being not only well mannered , something my late Italian father himself prized , but one of the few with a lot of good to say about the House of Lords , in which those , like yourself , an some I have in recent comments paid tribute to , I think do a very worthwhile service to our party and politics .Happy Christmas .

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '15 - 7:41am

    People in Spain and some other European countries use the word “liberal” as a term of abuse to mean Thatcherite. Here the word is sometimes used as a term of abuse to mean a trendy lefty. Neither have any relavance to the proper definition of liberal, as understood by Liberal International.

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