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Spain’s radical left joins positive European trend, opinion polls show


First France, then Greece and Italy and now Spain:  radical left politics is getting a lift as the people of Europe reject austerity and look for genuine alternatives.

The latest Metroscopia opinion poll published for El Pais newspaper over the weekend shows an impressive and consistent rise in support for the communist-led United Left opposition party in Spain. In January the radical left party scored 7.7%, in February 8.8%, in March 9.1%, in April 11.6% and May 12.2%.

The same can’t be said for the main opposition party, the Socialists (PSOE) led by Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. Poll ratings show they haven’t shaken off the negative view Spaniards have had of them since summer 2010, as the impact began to be felt of their May volte-face in favour of austerity. Only this May did they get a bit of bounce, to 25.8%, from 23%.

The governing right wing Popular Party that ousted the Socialists in November’s parliamentary elections, has see a sharp fall in popularly over the past two months amid massive street protests over cuts to education and health. But the administration of prime minister Mariano Rajoy still has a very comfortable 11% lead over the Socialists.

For United Left leader Cayo Lara, who had hoped for, but failed to pick up more anti-austerity votes in the November elections, it is a vindication of the party’s campaigning against the deficit obsession politics of the two main parties, and its active and uncritical support for the indignados movement that has just marked its first anniversary.

To be fair, November’s parliamentary elections actually saw United Left achieve its best result since 1996, with 6.9% of the vote giving them 11 seats compared to just 2 in 2008. And its overall vote increased by just over 700,000 – a bigger rise than the 500,000 or so lift enjoyed by the victorious Popular Party.

Since November, the United Left has been using its increased weight in parliament to bring to the attention of Spanish lawmakers the demands of the country’s occupy movement and the growing protest movement against public sector cuts.

The first electoral test since November was the March regional election in Andalucia. And it showed a surge in support for the party, which succeeded in doubling the number of seats to 12 with a 11.4% share of the vote. The Socialists instead lost seats, albeit they didn’t suffer the kind of defeat some had expected.

The real story of the November poll was the collapse of the Socialist vote, which fell by 4.3 million, rather than any switch in the vote to the Right. Voters punished the social democratic party for the punishment it had meted out to them by creating the debt-fuelled housing boom that went bust and then added to the misery with swinging spending cuts that aggravated the recession.

The party’s core working class voters rejected the Socialists because the party had abandoned them. But rather than learning the lessons, rethinking their policies and seeking a new beginning, they have avoided a real debate about their electoral debacle.  The decision in February to back Old Guard Rubalcaba to replace former premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero underlined their attachment to the failed policies of the past.

Ordinary Spaniards know this. And in their hunt for a genuine alternative to austerity, growing numbers are warming to United Left.

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