Seven years after revolutionizing Spanish politics by founding Podemos and inspiring imitators across Europe, shameless left-wing populist Pablo Iglesias resigned all his posts on Tuesday night. Does this mean the end of the Podemos dream?
After stepping down as deputy prime minister in order to lead his party in Tuesday’s Madrid regional elections, where Podemos faced erasure, Iglesias decided the results forced him to leave. His party won only 7% of the vote, less than the far-right Vox. “It’s the best thing for Podemos now,” he said.
In fact, Iglesias increased Podemos’ vote compared to the 2019 Madrid elections, but he has absolutely failed to prevent Spain’s latest political phenomenon – the right-wing President of the Popular Party (PP) in the Madrid region. , Isabel Díaz Ayuso – to storm an unassailable victory.
Iglesias ended his farewell speech with a phrase from a song by Cuban poet Silvio Rodríguez: “I don’t know what fate will bring me, but I have followed my path.” The charismatic fate of the former university professor is indeed difficult to predict. Iglesias is still only 42 years old. He was careful to say that he was resigning from “partisan” and “institutional” politics, leaving the door open to other forms of activism.
In a recent conversation, Iglesias told me he was inspired by the role drama series that air on Netflix and other platforms play in promoting progressive values. “The movies don’t even come close,” he said, referring to Steve McQueen’s Small Ax.
It has long been a joke among his opponents that Iglesias is obsessed with television series (the intellectuals of Podemos even wrote a book analyzing the politics of Game of Thrones) but he wouldn’t be the first leftist to believe their message is better disseminated through culture. In fact, the Podemos Project itself emerged from a self-taught TV talk show run by Iglesias, and even as Deputy Prime Minister he continued to interview writers and historians for the party’s website.
When I was his guest in February, Iglesias was clearly frustrated at being deputy prime minister in the socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, where Podemos struggled to win. As a result, I was less surprised than others when he swapped a seemingly powerful position in government for Red Sport, albeit a minority, to campaign in an area of Madrid of just 5 million voters.
It is, however, unimaginable that Iglesias would quit politics altogether, as it has consumed his life since he was a young communist in the popular Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas.
For many voters, however, he had gone from a messenger of change and hope to an increasingly angry and cornered radical. Podemos started by selling Alegrwas going to – joy – yet in Tuesday’s election, the person selling joy was the PP candidate, Ayuso.
His campaign featured Podemos, now in partnership with the Spanish Communists, as Unidas Podemos, a scarecrow who radicalized the central government. Ayuso also claimed that his policy of allowing bars to stay open during much of the pandemic had made Madrid the freest and happiest place in Spain. His provocative and harsh campaign slogan was “freedom or communism”.
Iglesias responded with a similar outburst, proclaiming that the struggle was between “democracy or fascism”. The more realistic message that Madrid’s horrific Covid record (a city with one of the worst death rates in Europe) was largely Ayuso’s fault has not been accepted.
By leaving the political scene, Iglesias will also allow the Spanish far left to achieve a feminine turn. The leadership of Podemos will likely fall to the Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, the most efficient and popular of his government ministers.
A party called Más Madrid (More Madrid) set up by Iglesias’ former ally and Podemos co-founder Íñigo Errejón overtook the region’s socialists on Tuesday to come second after the PP. Tellingly, the party is led by a woman, Mónica García, a doctor at the hospital.
Barcelona, meanwhile, has activist Ada Colau as mayor. The same is true in Valencia, where the local progressive party Compromís – led by Mónica Oltra – is the coalition partner of the regional socialist government. All of them seem to better fulfill Podemos’ original mission of knitting disparate left movements together.
There was a lot of blackout about Iglesias and Errejón when Podemos was founded in 2014, but also complaints that women were being held back from progressing. Iglesias’ departure not only makes Irene Montero – her partner and government equality minister – the main politician in the family, but it can also put an end to the movement’s “alpha male” syndrome.
Throughout this tough election, Iglesias found himself pushed into a corner and came back growling. It was probably his only option, but it cost him his career. A campaign of bruising was not made easier by the fact that he received an envelope containing two military rifle cartridges and a death threat.
Iglesias, however, profoundly changed Spanish politics. Podemos was the first insurgent party to break the long-standing corrupt Socialist-PP duopoly. Since then, the two often have to seek coalition partners wherever they try to rule.
Iglesias also succeeded in pushing the socialists further to the left, but his conscious legitimization of populism in general likely helped Vox become the first far-right Spanish party since Franco’s dictatorship.
In fact, Iglesias’ exit obscures something far more disturbing, which he will surely reflect on in semi-retirement. Just as the so-called British ‘red wall’ of the Northern seats voting by Labor fell to the Tories in 2019, the Madrid ‘red circle’ of working-class suburbs voted on Tuesday for the right-wing policies of Ayuso and the PP .
For a leftist radical who has promised workers in Madrid a greater share of the economic booty in a dynamic but inequitable region, such is the real tragedy.