Vox. Populi?  We’ll find out on Sunday when the exit polls for Spain’s snap general election are announced. 

The make-up of the next Spanish government depends on how popular the hard right Vox party is. It was only formed 10 years ago, entered parliament for the first time in 2019, but now has millions of supporters and by next week it could hold cabinet positions in a coalition government.  Polling suggests the conservative People’s Party (PP) will get about 32% of votes making it the largest party in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies. However, to govern it needs 176 seats and that may require the support of Vox which is polling at about 14%.

They are not natural allies and if Vox demands too much from its radical agenda the way may be open for another left of centre coalition.  If a PP/Vox agreement can be made, then the hard right would be in national government for the first time since the death of the dictator General Franco in 1975.

Vox emerged as a splinter party in 2013 after its president, Santiago Abascal led a group of like-minded politicians out of the PP in protest over a slush fund scandal, perceived softness on ETA, and to counter separatism. It gained popularity in 2018 as more migrants arrived in Spain than any other European country although its appeal to some voters is wider than just its stance on immigration.  Support grew during the constitutional crisis surrounding Catalonian independence in the same year. 

Abascal, a sociology graduate from the Basque Country, is now a married 47-year-old father of four. He’s a third-generation politician who had joined the PP as an 18 year and followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who both served in local or regional governments. 

Some of his party’s positions are run of the mill right of centre fare – lower taxes, public spending cuts, repealing progressive laws on transgender issues –  but there is clear blue water between Vox and the PP on others. Measures to combat climate change have been denounced as ‘climate fanaticism’ and part of the ‘climate religion’ imposed by the West. This may seem strange in a country with huge water shortages and suffering droughts which, for example, have massively reduced the olive oil harvests. Indeed voters will go to the polls in Sunday in temperatures expected to reach 40 degrees in some areas. However, Vox is trying to appeal to the rural vote and claims it will oppose the ‘globalist agenda’ which cares only for the agrifood industry. Instead, Vox will ensure the availability of water in all rural areas and defend farmers from the ‘criminalisation of irrigation’. 

It’s Agenda Spain manifesto reveals an interesting turn of phrase when it comes to dismantling the autonomous regions system in which regions such as Catalonia have a large degree of self-government. Vox believes the system has ‘left us with a political community divided into 17 kingdoms of Taifas’. This is a reference to the Muslim kingdoms and principalities in eleventh century Iberia. In only the context of disbanding the system, the phrase might pass without comment but, made by a party whose leader has spoken of a second Reconquista to combat a ‘Muslim invasion’, it is inflammatory. 

 To preserve ‘cultural identity’, Vox proposes a naval blockade of boats arriving with illegal immigrants and the expulsion of any who got through, as well as any migrant who arrived legally but then committed a criminal offence. Immigration to meet the needs of the labour market should be from nationalities compatible with Spanish culture. Presumably that means Latin Americans of whom there are large numbers in Spain. 

Vox believes in the sovereignty of nations and would ‘retake sovereignty’ from Brussels by reforming EU treaties and restricting abortion. At a national level it would seek to do what it has done when in power in local government:  ban LGBT+ flags on public buildings, and dilute legal protections for women. 

These world views made Vox the third largest party after the 2019 election in which it won 52 seats and in May’s local elections it doubled its vote. It’s ‘Spain first’ policies appeal across the social classes. A third of Vox voters are women and the largest section of its base support are men and women under 30 – a fact which may reflect the high level of unemployment among Spanish youth.

But Vox vowing to take on ‘the enemies of Spain’ – by which it means the left-wing coalition of the previous government – rings alarm bells, and not just on the left. Using the language of the Franco years unsettles many Spaniards and the left-wing coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Alberto Nunez Feijoo has closed the gap in the polls this month by playing on this. Vox’s vote share is expected to fall from its high in the May election. If the fall is precipitous, and the PP does not increase dramatically, the door will open for another left-wing coalition. 

The results will tell us if Spain is following the trend of countries across the continent where the hard right either forms the government, as in Hungary, or holds the balance of power as in Sweden and Finland. Either way, it is growing.

The People’s Party has red lines and hints that Vox would have to tamp down its positions if it is to be invited in. In that event we are back to the classic question of whether the hard right can be tamed by the realities of being in government, or whether that encourages it to seek greater power but remain loyal to its beliefs. 

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