February 21, 2022 - 7:15am

Last week, Vox’s Right-wing populist party made headlines after outperforming expectations in a regional election. As the dust settled, there were questions as to what this might mean for the state of play nationally.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Over the weekend, a shock poll showed Vox surging into second place — ahead of the Partido Popular (PP), the mainstream party of the Right. The trend was confirmed in a second poll, which also shows Vox overtaking the PP. 

Vox is a relative newcomer. Formed as a split from the PP in 2013, it made little impact in the 2015 and 2016 general elections. But in 2019 it broke the mould of modern Spanish politics — taking 10% of the vote in the first of the two general elections that year and 15% in the second. The latest polls put the party’s vote share at over 20%. 

Though concerns over immigration and austerity played their part, the most important factor was specific to Spain: the constitutional crisis of 2017-18, which followed the attempt of the Catalan government to hold an independence referendum. Vox positioned itself as the party of hardline anti-separatism — opposing even the partial autonomy granted to Catalonia and other regions. 

The latest surge in Vox support comes at the expense of the Partido Popular. The PP is currently riven by a bitter internal dispute between its national leadership and its rising star, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the charismatic president of the Madrid region. 

Unless this is resolved, the PP risks sharing the fate of its French and Italian sister parties. In France, the only reason why the conservative presidential candidate, ValĂ©rie PĂ©cresse, has a chance of making it through to the second round is that the populist vote is evenly split between Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. Meanwhile in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is now a bit-player in a Right-wing electoral bloc dominated by populists. 

Back in Spain, the PP faces a dilemma as to whether to accept Vox as a formal coalition partner. The question has already sharpened internal divisions — but, so far, it’s been debated on the assumption that Vox would be the junior partner. As Angela Merkel is reported to have told David Cameron, the little party in a coalition always gets smashed.

But if current trends continue, Vox would be the senior party in a Right-wing Spanish government. Therefore the question facing the PP may become much harder: not whether they rely upon the support of the Vox leader, Santiago Abascal, but whether they make him their country’s Prime Minister.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.