Two votes, two countries, one month

One of the more endearing aspects of the recent municipal elections was the battered red coches (cars) belonging to the PSOE, PP and Ganemos (the Podemos group) gathered together in the main square as their casually dressed campaigners (including at least one prospective Mayor) struggled up ladders to place banners and party-coloured balloons on the top of lampposts.

Every square metre of some of the town’s walls, bridges and bus stops were plastered with posters from which local candidates and their party leaders beamed. Not for Órgiva the discreet posters in domestic windows and the suited and booted political hacks knocking politely on doors. The first foreign election that we were able to take part in meant we’d had the benefit of two votes, in two countries, in one month. But it felt very different to the many we’ve been active in, in London.

While the austerity policies and corruption scandals engulfing the main parties nationally have had a significant impact on the vote in many of Spain’s cities and large towns – most dramatically in Barcelona where the Podemos-type party Barcelona en Comú won control of the city hall and in Madrid where an Ahora Madrid and PSOE coalition could yet end 24-years of PP control – pavement politics dominated the political debate here.

Literally. Weeks before the election the street and pavement cleaners were out in force, even on Sundays. I saw one woman in an Ayuntamiento Órgiva (Órgiva council) florescent vest chasing a single leaf up the road with her rubbish picking tool. Signs went up in shop windows warning dog owners of fines for not clearing up their caca de perro, road markings were whitened and a pedestrian walkway appeared across the narrow bridge in the centre of town.

Because we had a vote, we talked to people. We talked to English residents and we were introduced to both PSOE and PP politicians. We listened to the views of the Spanish community, and we looked closely at what Ganemos was offering.

And our conclusion, and even that of friends who would have voted Tory if they had been in the UK, was that PSOE has done a good job in Órgiva. A lot of money has been spent, and spent well. Its achievements include the polideportivo (sports centre) that many UK towns of a similar size would envy. There’s been social housing construction in recent years, including for the traveller population, and a language skills project for young African migrant workers.

And while the way money goes around here can sometimes have an air of mystery about it, corruption doesn’t appear to be an allegation any opposition party has made. It’s a socialist town, history dictates that. But that’s not to say that there should not be room for smaller, anti-corruption and anti-austerity parties in this political system.

In the UK, David Cameron’s government was elected by 37 per cent of voters, just 24 per cent of those eligible to vote. There’s a serious debate to be had there about reform of the electoral system and the introduction of a system of proportional representation similar to the one used in many European countries, and which in Spain allowed our local Ganemos to win two seats on the council. We didn’t vote Ganemos, but it’s important that they are there too – not least to keep the caca off the streets.

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