Spanish Communists in the Ascendant
By Victor Mallet in Madrid
November 17, 2011
Spanish business leaders generally dislike socialist
politicians, let alone communists, so Cayo Lara drew an
exceptionally small audience of a few dozen when he
addressed a business breakfast at the Ritz Hotel in
Madrid last month.
Yet the Izquierda Unida (IU or United Left) alliance
led by Mr Lara is forecast by opinion polls to be
Spain's third most popular party - after the centre-
right Popular party and the governing Socialists - when
Spaniards vote in the general election on Sunday. The
PP is expected to win outright.
Under Spain's complicated electoral system, the
predicted support of about 7 per cent of the voters
would probably translate into at most 10 seats for IU
in the 350-seat lower house of parliament, but that
would still give radical Spanish leftists more
political influence than they have enjoyed for many
It is easy to see why Madrid's bankers and business
owners are wary of Mr Lara, a 59-year-old member of the
Spanish Communist party (one of IU's constituent
parties), given his staunch rejection of the economic
and financial orthodoxies on which their working lives
are based and his support for more public spending and
"We are confronted by a global crisis of the capitalist
system," he told them at the Ritz, as the eurozone's
sovereign debt crisis entered its latest and most
Mr Lara and the IU are profiting politically in two
important ways from the economic recession and
austerity programmes inflicted on Spain following the
collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
First, some traditional supporters of the Socialist
party (its full name is the Socialist Workers party of
Spain, or PSOE) are disillusioned by the spending cuts
imposed by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime
minister, at the behest of the bond markets and Spain's
European partners, and have defected to the IU.
Mr Lara said the Socialists today were "very similar"
to the centre-right PP and attacked both main parties
for rushing through a recent constitutional amendment
to ensure a balanced budget in the long term.
"It's a scandal that in the constitutional reform the
priority is given to repaying debt rather than to
health or education," said Mr Lara, who has promised to
support his trade union allies in future street
protests against the "wave of neoliberalism" sweeping
Mr Lara's second advantage on election day comes from
the broadly leftist leanings of European anti-
capitalist street protesters.
The global movement can be said to have begun in
Portugal and then in Spain, where it is known as "15M"
from the May 15 date on which demonstrators first
occupied the centre of Madrid. Although some 15M
adherents label IU as just another traditional
political party, Mr Lara shares their distaste for
bankers and economic injustice and hopes to garner
extra votes from disaffected young Spaniards.
"A bank director pays less tax as a proportion of
income than his secretary and a big company pays less
than a small one," said Mr Lara, who advocates
stimulating economic demand through more public
spending and cutting the working week to 35 hours as a
way of creating jobs.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
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