Imagine an alternative UK where the people long disenchanted with tales of sleaze, corruption and incompetence among their politicians, decided enough was enough and rather than give in to apathy and disinterest, opted to take back control of the system of politics, so that the system worked for the people and not the reverse. Suggest this in the open and the chances are your friends and family would accuse you of gross naivety.
Then again, have a closer look at Spain. Unemployment sits at 25 per cent. For those under 25 years of age and it hovers around the eye watering fifty-five per cent mark. The feeling of hopelessness is all pervasive as austerity bites and television news and newspapers exist on a near daily diet of politicians and businessmen being hauled into courts accused of dodgy land deals and corruption charges involving the public purse. Just today 51 politicians mostly from the ruling Partido Popular, including the former number two in Madrid, were arrested for their part in a 250 million Euro corruption scandal which involves a secret Swiss bank account and accusations of bribery, money laundering, forgery and illegal negotiations by public officials. This is a country where a large proportion of the population are utterly scunnered and the mood for change has spread across the land.
The cry of ‘no more’ has been met by the remarkable rise of Podemos (Spanish for “We Can”) a genuine grassroots movement, which in less than a year since its formation, has grown from the remnants of the Indignados who occupied Madrid’s Puerta del Sol during 2011 – 2012 to becoming the second largest party in Spain.
Their supporters are generally those who do not consider themselves to be represented by the traditional parties, yet they have been attracted to Podemos, whose membership has grown to an astonishing 207,736
In May 2014 they entered candidates for the 2014 European parliamentary elections, some of whom were unemployed, and polled a shade under 8 per-cent of the electorate and won 5 seats.
Six months on from what could easily be perceived as a protest vote and their growth continues. According to a poll by Sigma Dos for Spanish TV station Telecinco if elections were held today, 24.1 per cent of the electorate would vote for Podemos. This puts them just ahead of the main opposition Socialist party PSOE, led by Pedro Sánchez, whose rise to the leadership arrived after a decade in the shadows as a special adviser, only attracted 23.7 per cent support among the electorate, whilst Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling conservative Popular Party polled 28.3 per cent.
Given the margins of error, a four per cent lead with just over a year to go to the next general election leaves everything to play for and Spain could see the election of it’s first anti-establishment Prime Minister.
El Diario recently reported that more than half of the voters of the two major parties in Spain don’t have e-mail accounts or use the internet. The future of politics, not just in Spain, today depends on the quick and efficient mobilisation of supporters and campaigners online. In this regard Podemos are head and shoulders above their opponents.
Last year Erik Martin, the general manager of Reddit , the self-proclaimed front door of the internet, noticed massive movement in sub-folders devoted to Spain. Further investigation revealed an online community discussing, debating and sharing thoughts on shaping and creating a new democracy for Spain. Speaking to the New Yorker magazine, Martin, said, “We’ve never seen anyone use Reddit as an organizing tool, not like this.” Podemos had created a subreddit, essentially a home page for hosted by Reddit, which had more than two thousand subscribers and at least a million page views per month. “This was all in a market in southern Europe where Reddit is not even that popular,” Martin said.
So here is a party that is mobilised; uses crowd-funding to fund campaigns at incredible speeds, which advocates a guaranteed minimum wage, the lowering of the retirement age to 60, stopping hospital privatizations and eliminating tax havens.
Moves to broaden their appeal, have seen the party approved a resolution on the economy that no longer talks about defaulting on part of Spain’s public debt as had been advocated on the European election platform. The leaders now talk about orderly debt restructuring processes aimed at creating sustainable debt levels.
Following last night’s poll surprise, the party management model was voted on and the de facto leader, Pablo Iglesias MEP and his team won the day with their proposal for a centralised leadership team with a more traditional organisational structure, led by a secretary general. Mr Iglesias is expected to be the leading candidate for the new post of Secretary General of Podemos.
With a twitter following one would normally expect of a pop star or celebrity Pablo Iglesias represents the young, ambitious Spain looking to make life better for Spain and those who choose to live here. How soon before we see similar rumblings in the UK?