Both Spain and Britain have held elections recently–the general election for Britain and major regional elections for Spain. Both countries have seen the rise of newer parties in the run-up to their elections–the SNP, UKIP, and the Greens in the UK and Podemos and Ciudadanos in Spain. But while the British electoral system prevented the rise of these parties –except for the SNP–the new Spanish parties were able to get a foothold across the country and are preparing to storm the national elections later this year.
In Britain, the election campaign was marked by an unprecedented inclusion of smaller parties in the media and in televised debates. Polls showed significant gains for the Greens, UKIP, and the SNP and televised debates included all the parties. The Liberal Democrats suffered terribly after forming a coalition with the Tories, but still polled between five and ten percent. It seemed that a real change was coming to the two-party British system.
That was until the surprising results were released and showed that, save for Scotland, the two party system was more entrenched in British politics than ever. It was again Labour and the Conservatives who took the vast majority of seats–UKIP and the Greens received just one each, and the Lib Dems fell to just 8 seats. The SNP saw huge gains, but as a nationalist party, it only fielded candidates in Scotland, leaving the rest of the UK to be dominated by the two major parties more than ever.
Meanwhile in Spain, the People’s Party (PP) saw defeats in several regions across the country. While it maintained its top position in terms of popular votes, the party suffered many losses in regional and municipal governments, particularly in the country’s two biggest cities: Madrid and Barcelona. Newcomers Podemos and Ciudadanos have scored enough votes to seriously shake up the power in Spanish politics, entering into coalitions or even government themselves.
After over two decades in power, the PP has lost control of the city of Madrid. Manuela Carmena, of the Ahora Madrid (affiliated with Podemos) has taken power in the city, following an alliance between her party and the Socialists. After coming in second place (just 3 percentage points behind the PP) in its first election, Ahora Madrid shook up the political establishment of the city and ensured the city’s fall to the left. Carmena, a former judge, has already promised to usher in new policies to lower salaries of government workers, including herself, and to halt unnecessary construction projects,including “Operation Chamartin”, a planned financial center in the north of the city.
Bacelona also fell to the left, with the left-wing Barcelona en Comú coming in first place, ahead of the nationalists CiU who formally control the city. The new mayor, Ada Colau has herself promised to reduce the salaries of municipal workers, again including herself, and has also promised to halt to neverending expansion of hotels and tourism industry construction in the city, stating that Barcelona will not become like Venice.
The gains from the new parties were not limited to the two largest cities. The PP lost power across the country, including the Valencian Community region, Castile-La Mancha, and Extremadura. Ciudadanos scored 10% in Castile and Leon, 12% in the Madrid region, and 12.5% in the Valencia Community Region. Meanwhile Podemos scored 18% in the Madrid region, 19% in Asturias, and over 20% in Aragon. While still behind the PP and the Socialists in terms of popular votes, the left in Spain has done what the polls said they would do–seriously shake up the political establishment and end the two-party system in Spain.
But why has Spain begun to rid itself of a two-party system while in Britain it has become even more entrenched? Unlike the first-past-the-post system in Britain where each individual district is won by whoever gets the most votes, Spain keeps a proportional representation system that lets its newer parties enter into politics more easily. While UKIP was still able to get 12% of the popular vote in the UK, it managed to only win one seat in Westminster, the same amount as the Greens. The SNP took control of nearly all of Scotland with just around half the popular vote in the region. The system overwhelmingly favors large and established parties that already have name recognition and the resources to implement grassroots campaigning on a large scale. It makes it extremely difficult for new parties who have to get more votes than all the other established parties or else they receive nothing.
After an election campaign that saw the rise of smaller parties in the polls and televised debates that included these parties for the first time, hope of a real change to the British system ended abruptly once the results showed that the two parties are stronger than ever. The SNP in Scotland is the exception of course, but as it is only a regional party and only fields candidates in Scotland, it is not comparable to the newly founded Podemos or Ciudadanos which have begun to field candidates across the country.
Real change in the form of a Spanish political revolution is already taking place, and the general elections later this year should bury the coffin of two-party politics in Spain. The voters in the country have demanded change to the old establishment and their electoral system has allowed them to be heard. Meanwhile, the UK carries on as usual, with a hugely unrepresentative legislature and an electoral system that ensures the two largest parties will remain in power for the foreseeable future. This archaic system is a disappointment to its own citizens, whose voices remain unheard and unrepresented in their own government.