Over the last month, Madrid has been turned into an electoral battleground. Recrimination, armed police and death threats have characterised an ugly campaign that began when current Madrid President Isabel Díaz Ayuso called the election back in March. The move was retaliation against Cuidadanos, her partners in Madrid, who had brought down a Popular Party (PP) government in Murcia. Since then, we have witnessed almost two parallel campaigns with the Right pretending that the generation of Spaniards unable to get a stable home does not exist and the Left ignoring the increasing ghettoisation of streets in Madrid.
As the people of Madrid vote today, with the polls showing PP in the lead, it seems a good time to sum up what I have seen on the stump and what it means, if anything, for Spain’s national picture.
On the Right, the clear loser seems to be the liberal Cuidadanos. The shock snap election will likely cost them all representation in the Madrid Assembly and with it, their last major national platform. The party has seen its previous 19.5 per cent of the vote move en masse to the Popular Party, with the not subtle slogan (Communismo o Libertad- Communism or Liberty) a clear move to hoover up those votes. At the start of campaign, there was talk of the Cs getting above 5 per cent to make it into the Assembly but now this hope is gone. Just a few years after being seen as the brave new force in Spanish politics, after Tuesday, Cuidadanos might be all but extinct.
At the final election day on Sunday, PP’s rally was an ocean of terrible nightclub music but also of celebration of ‘freedom’. The platform was clear, Ayuso painted herself as a defender of freedom to go to the pub, freedom for public events and the removal of as many restrictions as possible. The reality is Madrid has been the most ‘open’ region of Spain for months and Ayuso has transformed herself into a national symbol that is firmly against restrictions, boasting of the increase in employment compared to other regions.
Indeed, while the reaction for the national leader Casado was lukewarm, Ayuso has become a grassroots and media darling. Interestingly, she also paid tribute to South American voters against the dictatorships of Venezuela and Cuba, the ‘spontaneous’ waving of giant flags showing this to be a key point of her speech. It is an acknowledgement that the urban capital of the Madrid region is increasingly a South American, rather than Spanish, city.
The freedom for Spanish people to settle down and have families in the communities they grew up in gets zero mention, nor does the horrific decline in birth-rate in her region’s capital and the collapse in available housing due to the airbnb-isation of the region’s major city. Freedom to drink and spend money, yes. Freedom to have a family, not so much. It is pretty clear that whatever PP is, it certainly is not a conservative party.
On the other side, whilst PP are on course for an impressive 40 per cent of the vote, the Left’s vote is split between three parties : The national PSOE, Mas Madrid and Podemos, whose leader Pablo Iglesias quit his national job to campaign in the election.
The difference in enthusiasm and energy is night and day. The PSOE’s regional leader has struggled for coverage in an uninspiring campaign. The policy and energy vacuum is demonstrated by their ‘big offer’ to the young: giving those under 30 a small one-month subsidy for flats, which has been met with much derision from the young voters they need for a majority.
Meanwhile, Mas Madrid has ran a positive campaign under the infectious personality of Mónica García, and have been climbing rapidly in the polls.
A clear position against the touristification of the centre of Madrid is appealing to a significant of amount of young voters who find themselves trapped with their parents and anyone who is struggling to pay the rent or have protections in Madrid’s increasingly slum conditions (another example, were it ever needed, that left wing economic positions are inherently more conservative than the vast majority of ‘conservative’ parties).
Although it is important to remember that this is a Madrid regional election, and many voters may not be directly affected by this because the reality of young people unable to build a life and maybe even dream of having a family is a nationwide problem. But Mas Madrid is carving voters away from PSOE at an alarming rate.
When the election started, PSOE were neck and neck with PP and Mas Madrid were hovering on 10 per cent but now, there is a small chance that Mas Madrid might overtake PSOE. Were PSOE not to be in government in Madrid it would not be the end of the world, but if they were to be the second party of the Left in the region, questions would have to be asked about such a disastrous campaign.
Which turns us finally to the Queenmakers, Vox. On the Friday evening before the election, a small but passionate crowd of supporters greeted Rocío Monasterio to Gladiator-style music (the film, not the once beloved ITV gameshow) and a heavy police presence.
I have absolutely no idea what Vox is for, but I got a pretty good idea of what Vox is against. Trade Unions, Communists, the extreme left, illegal immigrants and the historical memory law (which has seen Francoist monuments removed but also church crosses and has now begun to be used by the Right to remove plaques for left wing leaders).
It would be easy to dismiss Vox and its supporters as far right, but besides my common criticism that there is no conservative society with the liberal economic policies Vox cheerleads for, concerns about the increasing unease and lack of safety people feel in parts of Madrid are valid for many people. Yes, the crowd was certainly an elderly one (many of whom may have enjoyed the Franco price caps on rents that parties like Vox and PP now decry as communism) but also a smattering of young families, increasingly concerned about the number of newcomers, legal and illegal, into Spain.
Vox are unlikely to increase their representation significantly and, in many ways, this is stagnation for the party since they shot onto the scene almost five years ago. However, their position is actually strengthened, for it is Vox who are likely to decide who governs Madrid after this election. 67 seats are needed to rule and barring an Ayuso-mania miracle, PP will be short and may end up with less than the three left wing parties. All eyes then turn to Vox who should at least be wary of how quickly Ayuso was happy to strike against her previous coalition partners. Vox do not owe Ayuso the crown. A deal is likely but not guaranteed.
This is likely to create big problems for the national leadership of PP and Pablo Casado, who had started the process of distancing himself from Vox to attract other voters. Not that Ayuso will care, who is now in a position where she cannot lose.
If she does not return as President, she will be the main opposition with a huge amount of grassroots and business support for her liberal positions and will have doubled PP’s share of the vote in Madrid, showing she can win back lost voters. If she does return as President of Madrid, then her star will be all the higher and any negatives about working with Vox will largely be used against PP at a national level, dumping the problem on Casado. Regardless of the result, she is now the favourite to lead PP should Casado, whose leadership has been faltering, fail.
It is never wise to extrapolate regional results to a national level, especially in such a divided country as Spain, but the one national takeaway we can make is that regardless of the final outcome, President of Madrid will not be the last Presidential title Ayuso will be gunning for.