Another historic low in the Catalan Elections has Spanish Conservatives wondering whether Pablo Casado should still be in his job.
In some ways, it is almost impressive. Partido Popular (PP), the traditional conservative party of Spain, has outdone even their own high standards for terrible electoral performances in Spain’s second largest economic region of Catalonia. Despite Spain having another terrible third wave of infections, unemployment at 16 per cent (youth unemployment is a horrific 36 per cent according to the Spanish statistics institute of INE) and with Catalonia being heavily affected by the lockdowns, PP have produced their worse performance in Catalonia since they started competing in elections here in 1992.
This is PP’s third consecutive election in Catalonia where they have lost seats and votes, dropping from 19 seats and 13 per cent of the vote in 2012 to just 3 seats and less than 4 per cent. Just to emphasise the scale of this humiliation, the Popular Alliance (which was the party of grumbling Francoists who had begrudgingly accepted democracy) got 11 seats back in 1984. Those in PP who think continuing to lose seats again is not of concern, when they only had four, are deluding themselves.
It has been forgotten now but the first ever Spanish Conservative Government in the post-Franco era was secured by the support of Catalan conservatives. In the 1996 General Election, PP secured 156 seats but were still short of the 176 seats for a majority. They turned to Convergence and Union (an economically liberal Catalan party) to allow them to take office. In 1996, PP were the third largest party at the General Election in Catalonia and the party would rule nationally until 2004.
What was once a region that was dominated by conservatives (of the Catalan or Spanish disposition) is now a no-go region for the legacy ‘conservative’ parties. In the election last Sunday, the Spanish socialists (PSOE) recovered to top the polls and the Catalan left of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) secured 33 seats, level with PSOE and the highest amount for ERC since 1932 (the last election before the Francoist dictatorship).
Already the excuses are coming out. The ahistorical claim PP do not traditionally do well in Catalonia or pointing to PP’s ability to win general elections in Spain without needing to win in Catalonia (PP have only secured one national majority in 20 years). Sadly for PP, the electoral arithmetic on the Right has been blown apart by the arrival of one man, Santiago Abascal.
The Leader of Vox has led his party on a tear since they broke into the Andalusian Parliament in 2018, gaining 12 seats largely on the back of Andalusian anger over the Catalan situation in 2017. They entered the Spanish Parliament in the first General Election in 2019 and by the second in November, they had become the third largest force in national politics with 52 seats. Now, they are the largest party of the right in Catalonia while PP are an afterthought.
Yes, there was a Covid-suppressed turnout of just over 50 per cent, which may have helped Vox. Yes, Ciudadanos (the liberal party that came close to replacing PP as second at the April 2019 general election) collapsed worse, but this is barrel scraping of the highest order for a supposedly national government in waiting. The fact that younger generations are flocking away from PP and the former conservative Junts to the more polarised forces of Vox and ERC should be the alarm bell needed.
The reason is clear, people who are unable to settle down and have kids do move more to the political extremes and so they should. Affluent commentators whinge about ‘populism’ but if you are a person in your late twenties, stuck in your parents’ home with no hope for a future family, then voting for the legacy parties such as PP would be an act of self-harm.
This trend of collapsing home-ownership and a birth rate falling off a cliff has been fuelled by the anti-conservative, hyper economic liberalism that PP implemented when they decided in the early 2010s that tourists helping Airbnb remove many thousands of family homes from the market was a better outcome than Spaniards having kids. The worry for PP should be that this trend of fewer families is only getting worse across Spain and people without a stake in society do not vote for conservative parties, nor are they morally obliged to do so.
Whinging about Vox, active denial and a continuing dead-end liberalism that has nothing to offer to a new generation of Spaniards or actual conservatives. If this is the best PP can offer Spain, it would be better for Vox to put them out of their misery.