For a long time despondency set over Europe like thick grey clouds with no sign of passing. The far-right have made a march in a continent that once spilled millions of blood against fascism and far-right racism. Countries such as Italy and Hungary witnessed populist right-wing governments that swept into power on platforms of chest-beating anti-migrant policies.
Others such as Germany, Sweden and France have witnessed far-right surges threatening the political consensus. In Britain, we have avoided the far-right, crushing them in elections but seeing success hovered up by a mainstream right shifted further authoritarian on issues of migration. Only Portugal offered a ray of sunlight seeking to pierce the black storm whipped up by the far-right with a socialist government.
With that in mind, there was a degree of trepidation approaching the Spanish elections. For the first time since General Franco died in 1975, the chance of the far-right holding some form of power within the central government was a real possibility. The far-right Vox party, who have enjoyed support in southern Spain in Andalucía, had sparked angst at the possibility of a strong performance. The Spanish socialists, PSOE, seemed certain to suffer, with the radical left-wing party Podemos had failed to generate the sort of energy and excitement they had done a few years earlier.
The results in Spain have seen the Socialists take 129 of the 337 seats. This is short of the 176-seat required for a majority, making it likely that a coalition with the left-wing Podemos, who have 14% of the vote share, likely. Such a political alliance will be tempered with a racial left-wing voice. A victory, however narrow or wide, is a victory and another day at which the far-right are kept apart. A map of the votes underlines that the traditional right-wing PP party were almost entirely wiped out in Catalonia and the Basque region. This is unsurprising given how questions of independence and Spanish centralism have become more pertinent than ever in Catalonia, while the Basque region along with the Catalans have always been a province known for its vocal dissidence towards the Spanish central state.
However what will undoubtedly be one of the subtopics is how, although PSOE and Podemos took just under half the vote share, Vox Party took 10% of the vote share, giving it around 24 seats. This is a party that is strongly socially conservative, opposing migration, feminism and crucially, and what was their catalyst it seems, Catalan separatism. Furthermore, with the PP slumping, a political void for a right-wing voice has now seemingly been filled, with Vox and the Citizens stepping in.
The breakthrough of the far-right in the Spanish elections means this isn’t a story of resounding socialist triumph but a cautionary one. The far-right have been kept at bay in Spain but have now entered the Spanish Parliament. And there is nothing to suggest this is the end of Vox. They suffered in the north, particularly in the Basque region where a strong progressive voice routed them, but have maintained their voice in the south.
Yet, there are reasons to be cheerful. The PSOE, which has been operating with a minority government since last June, can treat this as a reaffirmation that there is still appetite for its politics. For those disillusioned with free-market and authoritarian right-wing politics, the victory in Spain is a rare shaft of light that says Europe need not be condemned to the populism of the far-right. It also signals that there is an appeal for socialism still. And now along with Portugal, the Iberian region is a pocket of light in a sea of cynicism and gloom. Spain is a country that has suffered for years with inequality, and terrible levels of unemployment. Such an economic crisis has slightly improved with unemployment falling to 14.6%, the lowest it has been in ten years. Political tensions regarding Catalan independence have further fuelled a sense of social fragmentation. The arrival of Vox provided a chilling new energy into Spanish politics, by a party that won huge support for its deep social conservatism and rejection of Catalan separatism.
Outside Spain, many will be tempted to interpret Spain’s results and find reasons to be cheerful about their own prospects. This is understandable but remains dangerous. Each country has a different political culture. Some countries have different attitudes to radicalism and the far-right. Spain is very polarised politically, and particularly on the appreciation of Spanish centralism, which manifests in the election results and poll views on Catalan nationalism. But it’s also a country which memories of Franco, which is why the far-right have found it harder to break into Spain than some other European countries. Until now anyway.
Spain is anyway, different to the UK. And the PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez is different to Jeremy Corbyn. The success of foreign socialists does not immediately validate Corbyn because they are not necessarily alike, nor does socialism immediately translate into Corbynism. This is a very misleading and reductionist take on politics in Spain, and ignores how different we are to the UK. Here, the far-right are unlikely to make inroads, but by the same token, a radical leftist politician simply finds it harder to form a government than a social democrat. Consider how Theresa May is regarded as a terrible prime minister, yet remains locked in with Corbyn in the polls.
What is happening in Spain is reassuring for convincing us to fight for better futures within our countries. The far-right will be excited by the amount of seats racked up by the Vox party. They will see this as the start of something, a golden dawn for them, a murky future for us. We must content ourselves with that the country’s ruling socialists, have the most seats.