Fernando González Urbaneja | The spring promised to be a prosperous one for the socialists after the relative triumph in the Catalan elections, which held out the possibility of a tripartite government (on the left); the ousting of the Partido Popular in some autonomous communities in collusion with Ciudadanos, which, by the way, distanced itself from the PP; the vaccination campaign that would put an end to the pandemic; and finally the arrival of European funds to consolidate the recovery… In short, two legislatures ahead of them.
Spring is not over and expectations are dwindling: in Catalonia the socialists and their “Illa effect” are still waiting for things to happen. And the new “pro-independence” government is demanding exacting compensations so that its parliamentary groups in Madrid continue to support President Sánchez from time to time; Ciudadanos is in decline, not in favour of the socialists, but rather to fatten up the PP; there is even evidence of a transfer of socialist voters to the Popular Party that was not anticipated; and the polls, irrelevant but carefully scrutinised by politicians, point to a sharp shift in the parliamentary map. And to complicate matters further, tension with Morocco is emerging, which is always uncomfortable for any government.
Polls are of little value when there is no hint of elections, but they set trends and change expectations and strategies. Their greatest effect is not on voters but on political leaders.
After the Madrid results there is a change of course. Madrid is not Spain, but it is a trend-setter, they are similar. The fact the PP now appears to be leading the polls, with expectations that the right wing can join forces to form another government, is indigestible for socialist leaders and realigns internal positions. This is to the detriment of Sánchez, who no longer seems invincible or indispensable.
The Catalan panorama leads almost inevitably to the government granting pardons to convicted criminals who are not asking for pardon. And who will feel their strategy to “do it again” will be reinforced, albeit in a different way or at a different pace. These pardons (and something else) will incur more costs than merely electoral returns for the Socialists.
If there is one thing that characterises the Spanish (and European) political debate, it is volatility. In the space of a few months the tables are turned, the cards are reshuffled and combinations appear that were not expected just a few weeks before. For example, the German Greens’ chances of winning the Berlin chancellorship were not a hypothetical possibility just a few months ago.