26 May 2015

All change - municipal elections 2015

Municipal elections took place all across Spain last Sunday and, after four years of what can most kindly be described as an almost total absence of government, Alcalá has a new mayor and a new team in charge of running the town.  The unholy alliance between right and left, the Partido Popular (PP) and the Izquierda Unida (IU), has been consigned to history and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) took ten of the 13 seats available, their biggest majority since 1983, leaving the PP with two and the IU with just one.  The turnout was almost 70%, more than double the average for a local election in the UK.

The new alcalde, 35-year-old Javier Pizarro Ruiz, is not new to the Ayuntamiento, having been a councillor in the previous administration.  He was born and bred in Alcalá, and is related to half the town.  He trained in environmental, countryside and forest management but politics is in his blood.  His father is Luis Pizarro, a leading figure in the parliament of the Junta de Andalucia for many years.  He picked a team of candidates from all walks of life - teachers, environmental managers, administrators, waiters, stay-at-home mothers - all with strong local ties (and big families).  There was never any doubt that PSOE would regain office this time round.

The campaign was relentless.  Pizarro had generated a steady stream of criticism of the coalition on Facebook and in the PSOE bulletin Actualidad Socialista ever since they took office in 2011.  This became torrential in the weeks before the election, when every household received a four-page full-colour leaflet showing all the projects that were started in the previous PSOE term but left languishing by the "Derecha Unida":  the old people's home, the cemetery, the museum, the recycling point ...   They held public meetings, canvassed from door to door, distributed a forest's-worth of paper and used social media to the full. A car with a loudspeaker on the roof circled the town every day telling us what we needed to know in order to cast our votes wisely.   On the last day they were allowed to campaign, they organised a cavalcade of about 40 cars plastered with posters and drove round the town blasting their horns (personally I found that totally over the top, but then I am English and not accustomed to such vulgarity!)

The other parties' efforts were barely visible in comparison, though it is noteworthy that the IU was the only group that didn't resort to mudslinging in their manifesto, but actually concentrated on ways to improve the town and the lives of its people.  It was the only one to commit to making Alcalá an eviction-free zone, for example, and pronounce that food banks should not be necessary in a civilised society. In contrast, the PP promised a revival of folk-dancing classes, giving everything a fresh coat of paint, and a contest for the prettiest patio.

So what now for Javier Pizarro and his young team?  They have made a lot of promises which they now have to keep.  They will surely find a massive debt in the town's finances, as the PP/IU have been spending money like water over the last few months painting everything white and building fancy footpaths that don't go anywhere.  They have to rebuild bridges with the bodies that fund local projects, e.g. the Junta de Andalucía and the Diputación de Cádiz.  They must ignore the mud that will inevitably be slung at them, not squander their energy blaming the past administration for everything, and concentrate on the future.  Above all they must avoid becoming complacent, and never forget who they are accountable to.

The new team have the ability and the commitment to make things happen, and I wish them well.  Just lay off the car-horn cavalcades guys, leave that for the football fans.