Voting in Spain

Amid all the Brexit turmoil ( though it’s gone suspiciously quiet recently – could it suit the two main party leaders to drift towards the Euro Elections I wonder ) we might forget that the polarisation of politics is going on in plenty of places other than the UK.

A ray of hope therefore from Spain.  On Sunday Spain went to the polls for the third time in four years after Pedro Sanchez’ minority government of only 84 deputies ( out of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies ) failed to secure enough support for its budget.  This followed a period in which, since 2015, Spain has had no single strong ruling party, voters having returned the equivalent of a UK hung Parliament. This also coincided with the rise of the first extreme right-wing party – Vox – since Franco’s death in 1975 ( see Vox ).

The turnout was up, at 75%+, despite a degree of election fatigue. There was speculation, at least among my Spanish friends, that this was in reaction to the  apparent voter apathy which allowed Vox to take its first seats at regional level – in Andalucia and Extramadura – and a determination that this should not be repeated at the national level.

The result – an increased number of seats, up to 123, for Sanchez’ Socialists (PSOE) a left of centre social democratic party.  PSOE is now the largest block in the Cortes. In second place, just, the Partido Popular with only 67 seats, followed closely in third by Ciudadanos with 57.  The last of these, though tacking to the right, went nowhere near as far as the PP, which tried to steal Vox’s thunder.  Alberto Rivera, Ciudadanos leader says he wants to lead the opposition, but already media ( and many Spaniards I spoke with ) like the look of a PSOE Ciudadanos coalition.  A coalition of the centre.

I enjoyed watching the TV coverage in the run up and on election night.  My TV aerial was not functioning well so I watched the results come in on a channel I wouldn’t normally watch politics on, which made it even more interesting. Think Peter Snow, but in faded jeans, and speaking even more quickly, as coloured columns rise and fall around him.

I also went to check out the local polling station, in the large Post Office building near to us. I went along at lunchtime on Sunday and there was a long queue of voters snaking round the large room.  The Spanish system uses the D’Hondt method of proportional representation ( the same to be used in the forthcoming European Parliament elections ) with parties having lists of candidates.  I gathered up the listings, as well as a ballot paper (see photo above). One of my neighbours then went to register and cast her vote in a temporary voting booth ( which looked suspiciously like a temporary shower ).

On Sunday there was the leisurely perusal of the results in papers local and national.  The right-wing vote had fragmented, the centre had held. On-line and to the BBC and one could be forgiven for not noticing that the centrist socialists had won at all, so focused was the story on the rise of Vox.  That party did become the fifth largest, but did not do as well as many predicted and had itself proclaimed it would.  It’s sad to see the BBC so in thrall to what one can only describe as ‘click-bait’ news reporting.

Now it’s back to London, where the skies are less blue.  For more on Spanish politics and the remarkable trajectory of Pedro Sanchez see            All Change in Spain                                    Democracy III

Cheating

To cheat (verb trans)  To deceive by trickery; swindle: to mislead; fool: to elude. To act dishonestly; practice fraud;tviolate rules deliberately.

I, like many, am gripped by the drama that is unfolding at Westminster .  As someone who watches the Parliamentary Channel every so often, it’s good to know that I am no longer alone, others are tuning in too. Yet I suspect that many more are not, they just want it over.

One of the problems for me with watching events like this is the anger which attends it.  I find myself waking up at night, furious.  This was something a friend said to me a year or more ago and I sympathised, but didn’t quite understand. Now I do.  So where does that anger come from?

Is it, as Brexit supporters would have it, because I am unused to losing and being powerless?  Or because I cannot accept what living in a democracy means if ‘my side’ doesn’t win?

Having lived through the Thatcher years, when decisions which were bad for the country but good for Tory party elect-ability were taken again and again (encouraging people to buy their council houses at knock-down prices without building replacements, the selling off of prime utilities ) I don’t think that’s the case.  I remember powerlessness, when a split opposition allowed ten years and more of Thatcher or Thatcherite rule and the huge bonuses from North Sea oil were squandered in tax cuts and benefits payments.  And I was angry, but it didn’t invade my life like it does now.

Is it because I have immediate ‘skin in the game’ a horrible phrase?  As someone who has to operate in Euros as well as sterling, Brexit has already hit my pocket in a way it hasn’t yet for many ( though it will ).

No, that might make me a little angry, but it doesn’t account for this deep fury, a dissonance at my core. I think that is where the answer lies .  I am having trouble accepting what is happening because it runs counter to everything I have been brought up to believe.

That cheating is wrong.

That winning by cheating isn’t winning and that the rules won’t let it stand.

Ben Johnson may have won the Olympic hundred metres while doping, but he didn’t get to  keep the medal.  Lance Armstrong may have ruled the Tour de France (and ruined the careers of those who wouldn’t dope or support doping) but eventually he was found our and disgraced. Shirley Porter jerry-mandered a local election* but had to flee to Israel before making reparation.

Now, I am not the young child who cries ‘But it isn’t fair!’  I know that life isn’t fair. Nor am I the food bank user, or the woman juggling two zero hours jobs with childcare. There are many who are much worse off than me and who could, rightly, consider that they, personally, had been treated unfairly (the claimants of disability allowance who are denied because the operatives of the privatised system are told they must discourage claims, for instance, or the Universal Credit claimant told she has to wait six weeks for payment of money due to her, so she cannot feed her children).

But I also believe that people, generally, believe in fairness and justice.  If we lose that belief it will leave everyone the poorer and the UK a mean and bitter place. In another conversation, with a leaver friend, I was asked, but if there was so much law breaking and wrong doing why hasn’t something been done about it?  For her – someone who has the same value system as me –  the lack of accountability demonstrated that there wasn’t really anything major wrong.

I guess the sad truth is that people who might do something about this stand to gain more by not applying basic laws and rules than by applying them ( and I include disaster socialists here as well as disaster capitalists ).  The Referendum was advisory, so its result is not binding.  Electoral law was broken (a 10% overspend and funding from unknown sources), which would, were this a properly binding election, mean that the result would be set aside.  People like Gina Miller and Jolyon Maugham try, but the powerful continue regardless.

This is why I am angry.

I still believe that eventually those in charge, as well as the cheats, charlatans and liars, will be brought to account.  But by then the damage may well have been done.

*The now infamous ‘homes for votes’ scandal.