Keir’s Spanish lessons

by Rob Marchant

It would be easy for Labour to derive some trite answers from the result of Sunday’s general election in Spain, where many international commentators were holding their breath.

In the end, wily PM Pedro Sánchez managed to frustrate the advance of the far right – which almost got back into government for the first time in half a century – and may well end up continuing to run the country after all. Hurrah, a victory for Western social democracy.

The quick and comfortable answer for Labour to take away is this: in the end, given a stark choice in times of hardship, people saw through right-wing populism and agreed that the left are the good guys, who will look after their needs. The needs of the many won over needs of the few. The left is on its way back.

Sadly, this is not the right lesson.

Sanchez has, a little like Joe Biden, managed both to do some good things, and meanwhile seriously irritate many electors in the political centre who would otherwise vote for him. The radical end of the global left, spearheaded by the likes of the Democrats’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is starting to drive us all a little crazy.

Spain, which has enjoyed a leftist government for the last five years, is little different. The uncomfortable truth is that the Spanish leader has, and only maybe, clung on by the skin of his teeth, when he could potentially have won a comfortable second term. Being a smart political operator, he gambled that most Spaniards would recoil so much at the thought of neofascists in government, that he could avert disaster, and therefore brought forward the election five months in a “back me or sack me” move. He turned out to have made a smartish bet.

But not only may that trick not work next time, one also has to ask why he ended up in such dire straits that he had to resort to it in the first place– that so many voters disliked the Socialists so much, that they could come that close to putting Franco’s unpleasant heirs into government in their place. The best Sánchez can hope for now is an unstable, rainbow coalition, in hock to the demands of nationalist parties.

In short, if that is success – that is, failing to get a majority against a group of opponents which includes some actual fascists – it’s a pretty low bar.

The real lesson from the Spanish result is rather this: you can throw it all away with dumb wokery that the population doesn’t like.

And the good news is, it may just be the lesson Labour has taken.

Perhaps the key disaster during Sanchez’s tenure has been the actions of its partners on the radical left. The Socialists’ coalition partners, Podemos, pushed into law deeply unpopular moves on sexual consent and on trans self ID late last year, and in the process managed to alienate large swathes of the moderate electorate.

Funnily enough, self ID is also the very issue which triggered the meltdown of the SNP leadership in Scotland and the shock resignation of long-standing First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

One might reasonably ask, how much more demonstration is required that this policy is driving voters away on the left in countries across the globe. At Uncut, we identified this as one of eight issues he had to sort out back in 2020; it is now the only one left to complete.

Faced with these twin disasters in nearby governments, Starmer finally, on Wednesday, after three years of dithering and equivocation, stated what the vast majority of his voters already knew: that a woman is an adult female. He clarified that the party was definitely dropping self ID, that single-sex spaces would be protected and legal gender recognition would retain medical checks. Thank heavens for that.

This is not the end of the story, of course. He had only intervened to clarify a garbled message delivered by Shadow Equalities Minster Anneliese Dodds; there are still serious holes in the revised policy; and neither has he apologised to Rosie Duffield, vilified within the party for saying more or less the same thing, nor the hundreds of women like her, who have been bullied, disciplined and often ostracised. These are important things.

But this week he made a start. While many are understandably mistrustful that this is yet another fudge, some of us might also just dare to believe that Labour is finally starting to look serious about winning back the women it has alienated.

And, by extension, serious about government.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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