Season 2: The state of play in Spain ahead of the election on 26 June

It’s often said that we no longer have The Thick of It because politics can no longer be effectively satirised in Britain. You could say the same about Spain (although there is a Catalan programme that makes a valiant effort.)

After the last round of post-election negotiations failed, it sometimes seems like you’re watching a particularly dramatic TV show. The polls have remained fairly static, and where there are variations in the number of seats in the new election on  26th June they will be reasonably small.

However, there has been one large development – Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) have formed an electoral pact (the Pact of the Beer Bottles) for this round. Iglesias has made no secret of the fact that his goal is to overtake the PSOE (Socialists) in seats, but his party was starting to drop in the polls. Alberto Garzón’s IU was benefiting from that, so those two will likely make some form of gain there.

In Britain, we know all too well that when the election results are uncertain and the system very polarised, more moderate parties lose out. In the same way that the Tories and the SNP fed off each other, the PP and this new Unidos Podemos (Together We Can) formation happily do the same. The PP paint themselves as the sole force that can stop the Unidos Podemos (UP) threat, which plays into UP’s hands in the same way that Cameron’s fearmongering played into Sturgeon’s.

As such, our newly official Spanish liberal allies, Ciudadanos, may find themselves losing a few seats through no fault of their own. The majority of their campaign so far has been focused on standing up against populism at home and defending human rights abroad – Albert, like our Tim, has been to see the effects of the refugee crisis in Greece. He’s also been to Venezuela by invitation from the opposition there. UP has been known to support Maduro’s government in the past – several Podemos figures worked with the Venezuelan government, and IU called the opposition “a minority elite supported by international interests.”

In short, it’s still vitally important that we have a strong liberal force in Spain now. They may lose ground slightly, but the balance of power won’t change massively. They have shown themselves to be the only political force in Spain that is willing to get their hands dirty to attempt to form a government. Without them, the gridlock would be almost impossible to break. As things stand, they are the only ones who can realistically participate in government formation to keep out UP.

The rise of UP is not a good thing for Spain or for Europe. They are part of the European Left, but they share similar tendencies to UKIP and Trump: they also propose simplistic solutions to complex world problems. They stoke division and will say anything to get power. If they had it, they would pull back from free trade and take Spain down a highly risky path.  Liberal centrists will remain the fourth political force, but they will also be integral for a secure, prosperous, progressive and free future for Spain.

* Hannah Bettsworth is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Council for Europe, and the Liberal Democrat Federal International Relations Committee. Outside of politics, she works in European affairs consultancy on health policy.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jun '16 - 1:32pm

    A very intelligent and thought provoking article. Are the left able to win, and is participation by Liberals in a broader left coalition out of the question, in effect , to moderate it rather than prevent what might otherwise be inevitable and damaging ?

  • Mark Smulian 6th Jun '16 - 2:22pm

    There are also liberal parties in Catalonia that are affiliated to Liberal International

  • Hannah Bettsworth 6th Jun '16 - 2:22pm

    Hi Lorenzo,

    Thanks 🙂 I could write another article on that alone, but in short:

    a) according to my Spanish contacts they don’t actually want to win and are content to sit in second place ahead of the PSOE because that was their whole aim to begin with. I personally don’t think that they can win an outright majority, at least not this time round.

    b) absolutely 100% out of the question: C’s and the PSOE got Podemos around the table last time, but Podemos intentionally set out red lines for agreement that were impossible to meet. They’ve been relentlessly stubborn to say the least.
    Even just on a personal level, Albert and Pablo had a face-to-face debate last night and I cannot remember the last time I saw something so bad-tempered in British politics. It didn’t use to be like that: they did have a similar debate during the last elections that was much more cordial but the last few months have just killed any kind of understanding that could have existed between the parties.

  • Bernard Aris 7th Jun '16 - 12:38am

    Dear Mrs. Bettsworth,
    Thank you for your update on Spanish electoral politics. I’ve been interested in Spanish politics since the heyday of Adolfo Suarez’ two parties: the Transición UCD (1975-’81) and the social-liberal CDS taking on the PSOE and PP ( from 1985 until the mid-1990’s). I learned Spanish not only in Dutch evening school (middle school exam), but also in summer courses in Barcelona, Madrid and Salamanca in 1992-4.
    Is Ciudadanos in its buildup able to build on Suarez’ and CDS memories?
    Podemos was, like the Greek Syriza with liberal To Potami, always irked that they weren’t the only new party breaking the PP-PSOE-mould and winning votes. Now they’ve hooked up with polarizing IU, their animosity was bound to increase.
    But IU is also from the corrupt’90’s, with CCOO nepotism in trade unions, and deals with Felipe Gonzalez’ PSOE. So Podemos is tainted by allying with them.
    And PSOE is not only suffering from decades of corruption, but also the ideological and electoral crisis of European Social Democracy (Greece, France, Britain, Spain, Germany, Netherlands). So they should be amenable to co-operating with Ciudadanos in forming the core of a center-progressive, rebuilding coalition. European Christian Democrats should encourage PP (with new leaders) to join them if necessary. That coalition has the support of the three dominant party groups in the European Parliament…
    ALDE, LibDems and we Dutch D66 should tell Ciudadanos that flak from Right and Left isn’t something new; PP, PSOE and IU all are weaker than when they squeezed out the CDS; so keep calm and carry on. If a coalition can survive for 5 years in Britain, Spain should imitate that… They need a broad coalition for stability’s sake.

  • Hannah Bettsworth 7th Jun '16 - 6:13pm

    Thank you Bernard!

    Modern Spanish history is my main period of interest literature-wise actually (the Civil War specifically, but I have a soft spot for Transition-era detective novels (and a very long reading list!))
    Yeah, I’d concede with your analysis there. Rivera has appealed to the spirit of the Transition in calling for everyone to get around the table to form a government. Sometimes our opponents ridicule him for trying to claim that ‘statesman’ mantle, but that’s essentially Podemos taking cheap shots to play to its base.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you said that Podemos wasn’t too pleased about having a competitor for the ‘new politics’ vote.

    Rajoy, as ever, is the sticking point in working with the PP. The numbers won’t add up for PSOE-Cs most likely, so we need the PP to pull its finger out in order to keep the Left out of power really. Perhaps they’ll make more of an effort for stability’s sake.

    Yes, those of us with coalition experience in ALDE have a real role to play here, and we should definitely offer our advice and experience of what works (and what doesn’t!)

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