How is Spain to
to its young people?
2011 was, electorally, a disastrous year for the Spanish socialist party (PSOE). Following the decision of the central socialist government to pursue policies of austerity and public sector cuts, the voters punished the party at every opportunity.
The PSOE was roundly defeated by the right-of-centre party (PP) in the November national elections. At the regional level, where policies for health, social care and education are often determined, the PSOE lost power in many of the places, such as Castilla La Mancha, Catalonia and Extremadura, where they had had a dominant role since the death of Franco. Only Andalucia, with a population of eight million, that includes olive farmers, gypsies, bull-fighters and tourism workers, remained as a red bastion in a sea of blue.
Andalucia seemed set to change government at its regional elections on 25 March. Unlike other parts of Spain, there are no significant nationalist parties there and if the PSOE were to lose power it would be to the PP. The PP likes to present itself as a modern right-of-centre party but, in a country where there has been no process of truth-telling or reconciliation about the civil war, there are some sections of the PP which see themselves as the inheritors of the Franco legacy.
When the PP took control of the city council in Seville last year, they announced within a week that they would change the name of a street to reflect their ideological priorities; the name most likely to be adopted is associated with the family of Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, a particularly murderous nationalist general from the civil war. All fairly obscure stuff which may well only be of interest to political anoraks (or whatever anoraks are called in sunny Andalucia), but it is a decision that offers insight into the beating heart of a section of the PP. Such themes, however, did not feature in the regional election.
The remarkable thing about the election was the lack of any serious political debate. The PSOE asked voters to remember their record of governing and their high levels of spending on health and education. The PP campaigned on the basis of the need for a change and focused on a corruption scandal that had emerged in an employment project funded by the regional government. But, as to solutions to the astronomically high levels of unemployment, there were none. The nearest there was to a debate came over the issue of co-payment by individuals for their healthcare services but even this failed to generate much interest.
The PP government in Madrid, interestingly, timetabled the announcement of their latest austerity budget until five days after these elections. PSOE had lost three quarters of a million votes in Andalucia in the national elections last year and when the opinion polls, the day before the regional election, predicted a clear majority for the PP this seemed very plausible.
So far, there has been no voice for unemployed youth other than the movement of indignados (the scunnered ones) which has inspired
young people around the world.
The results took everyone by surprise for although the PP are the largest party, the PSOE and IU (a party further to the left) will have a majority if they form a coalition; negotiations have begun but the IU, with an increased percentage of the vote, is likely to strike a hard bargain. There were smiles on the faces of the leaders of PSOE at a post-election press conference and that is something that no-one has seen for well over two years. They put their victory down to the fact that it had taken the people of Andalucia only 100 days to see through the dangerous implications of the austerity policies of the new PP government in Madrid. Well, maybe.
It is certainly true that social democracy in Spain has lived to fight another day. But there are two important absences that the PSOE cannot ignore in their attempt to re-build their party after the Andalucian election. The first is the abstention level which rose from 28% in 2008 to 40% in 2012. This surely reflects an indifference to – or a distaste for – the political process, alarming in a country which emerged from a dictatorship only 35 years ago. The other absence is of any serious debate about the fact that unemployment among young people has risen to over 50%; the corrosive effect on those individuals and upon society as a whole is currently immeasurable but it is a situation that is not sustainable.
One million workers supported a general strike on 29 March but that primarily reflected the concerns of trade unions and employed members of society. So far, there has been no voice for unemployed youth other than the movement of indignados (the scunnered ones) which has inspired young people around the world. The concerns of the indignados, which encompass corruption and lack of political transparency as well as education, unemployment and housing, have yet to be incorporated into mainstream political processes. There is sympathy among both the PSOE and the trade unions for the indignados' demands but sympathy alone does not create jobs. The resolution of these demands may well require a significant transformation of the whole political and economic landscape of Spain.
The key task for the PSOE is to find a way of prioritising the problems of inequality over the demands of voracious bankers. The increase in the morale of members of the PSOE after the Andalucian election means that there is an opportunity for them to become, in the short and medium term, an effective opposition to the PP. The delayed national budget, in line with the current obsession with deficit reduction, savaged spending on social needs and infrastructure projects; the recession will only get worse and that needs to be debated rather than accepted as something beyond human control. In the longer term, the PSOE and its allies need to develop a vision and a strategy to combat inequality and to restore hope to the lives of their young citizens. There is some way to go.
Bob Cant is editor of 'Footsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and gay lifestories