Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The First Force In Spain: Podemos

Last week the Mallorcan hoteliers' federation, taking stock of a political situation in which the Partido Popular appears destined to be thrown out of regional government next May, recognised the performance of Podemos in opinion polls but doubted that this performance would be matched when it came to the "moment of truth" at the ballot box. The hoteliers may now be wondering if they have underestimated the appeal of Podemos. The moment of truth probably will be different, but the way things are going that moment of truth might prove to be worse than the hoteliers imagine.

The opinion poll by Metroscopia, published in "El País" on Saturday was startling. Podemos headed the poll. As far as the survey is concerned, Podemos is no longer the suddenly-on-the-scene third force in Spain, it is the leading force. The shockwaves will not only be being felt at PP and PSOE headquarters, they will be reverberating, or should be, throughout Spanish society. If momentum were to continue and to translate into meaningful results at regional and national levels, there will be an earthquake that rips apart the dominance of two-party politics. It is no longer advisable to believe that Podemos will blow itself out. There has to be a realisation that it might just bring about the impossible.

The poll does only give Podemos a slight lead (27.7% ahead of PSOE with 26.2%), but that poll rating is up a massive 17 points since August. In the same period, the PP has fallen by almost 12% and PSOE, despite its new leadership, has also declined - by 5.5%. This was a poll taken after the latest corruption scandal erupted. It was to have been expected that the PP would take a hit because of this, but there has now to be a serious question asked of the PP, and that is whether the damage will endure and prove to be terminal. It might well do.

Mariano Rajoy, grovelling apology and all, has vowed that there will be no hiding place for the newly corrupt that Operación Púnica has unearthed, but Rajoy has too little credibility in this regard. He is too tainted himself, if only by unsubstantiated implication. Pedro Sánchez, the leader of PSOE, has ruled out some form of grand anti-corruption pact with the PP. He is right to do so. He needs to put as much distance between PSOE and the PP as he can. The pact that former PSOE leader, Alfredo Rubalcaba, signed up to - one intended to "regenerate" democracy - has been broken, and it had to be, as it looked like too much of a cosying up together by the two main parties. Podemos has shattered notions of rapprochement between the PP and PSOE.

Solace for the PP and PSOE can be taken from the fact that the electorate remains far from convinced that Podemos has realistic policies, but despite this misgiving, elections next year may well be dominated by narratives to do with the nature of the political system and of Spanish society at the expense of the detail of policy. The two-party system, exposed as inherently corrupt, is one aspect of this, another is the set of societal attitudes. One of the gravest errors that the Rajoy government has made has been to misjudge the Spanish public. From the reforms of the socialist administrations of Felipe González to those of Zapatero - the Aznar PP interregnum notwithstanding - this is a society that has shifted firmly towards a form of liberalism which the PP cannot grasp but has had to bow to, most notably with the decision to abort the abortion reform. The hammering that PSOE took in 2011 was all to do with the economy and not Zapatero's social liberalism. Podemos has tapped into this, and it is this liberalism which goes a long way to explaining why economic crisis produced a protest party of the left and not of the right.

On top of this there is all the corruption. The electorate may indeed care about the detail of economic management, of taxes, of republicanism, of ambivalence towards Brussels, but it may care more about punishing the endlessly corrupt. And Podemos has one foot firmly on the throat of corruption and another on the throttle that is intent on driving it out. On its Facebook page it has posted an organigram of the family networks connected to the town hall of Valdemoro in Madrid, the one right at the centre of Púnica. It is staggering but in no way surprising. It reveals just how nepotism, favouritism and "amiguismo" attach themselves to the political system and leech off it. These networks are the breeding ground for corruption, just as they were in Mallorca with the old Unió Mallorquina, and are with so many other cases. It is this which has to end.

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