Politics 02/05/2021

An in-depth look at 'Ayusismo'

8 min
Afternoon in a bar in the center of Madrid drinking a beer in support of Isabel Diaz Ayuso

MadridIt's seven o'clock on a Wednesday evening and Ponzano Street begins to fill up. Located in the heart of Chamberí, it is the Mecca of the popular Madrid tardeo and also the neighbourhood where the Madrilenian president and candidate for re-election, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has grown up. Five fellow master's degree students "celebrate life" -dancing to reggeaton - with a gin and tonic in hand inside one of the bars offering the new craft beer in vogue among old and new PP voters: La Caña de España! Curious onlookers of all kinds enter the place to try it, toast with Ayuso's face on the label and take the bottle home, says the waitress of the bar La Lianta de Ponzano.

"We have to go on living. I am an ayuser!", says Laura (not her real name), and shows a bracelet with the Spanish flag. One of her friends, Antonia, recognises that she has never considered herself a right-winger but she is sure she will vote for the PP: "Madrid is a boycotted community and Ayuso has been daring".

Two places over, Roberto does the numbers. He is the owner of Lolamenta and has decided to stamp Ayuso's image on one of the windows of the bar. If it weren't for her, he says he would have closed down by now, but he still has 80% of the turnover. With a concentration of 72 bars in one kilometer, Ponzano embodies the Madrid nationalism of which the PP candidate is proud. But ayusismo is much more: it is the result of 25 years of uninterrupted PP governments in the Community.

Bars in Madrid, such as these in the Plaza Mayor, have not been closed at any time during the second and third waves.

An ideological identity

What is behind the "Madrid-style living" that Ayuso preaches? Beatriz takes a while to answer. She has just returned from a rally in the Plaza de Chamberí with her parents and is wearing one of the masks of the PP youth with this slogan. "It's the reaction to a year of unprecedented relations between the Community of Madrid and the Spanish government, to the point that they imposed the closure of Madrid", she explains. She works in London but has been in Madrid for a few months to be able to "live freely". Her mother, Teresa, believes that there is no need to look for reasons for Ayuso's speech: "Ayuso's Freedom is like the No pasarán during the war".

Far from presenting a campaign of proposals, the president of Madrid has entrusted everything to this word, Freedom. In fact, it is the only word written in the electoral propaganda letter that has reached the homes of all those registered for the May 4th elections. For Sandra Leon, political scientist and senior talent researcher at the Carlos III University of Madrid, what some already call the "Ayuso phenomenon" is nothing more than the ability to consolidate an "ideological identity" and not a national one through the policies of the PP since 1995, such as the free choice of educational centre or health care.

The sociologist and political science professor Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca was among the first to warn of Ayuso's profile. Already in May 2020 he presented her as an "advanced student of Trump in Spain" and warned of the risks that could be involved in ridiculing her. "She has been able to absorb an optimistic discourse while the left only says that we must be stricter with everything", he says. The result: a profile that "drinks from the inheritance of the neoliberal policies of the PP in Madrid since 1995 and has been able to exploit Spanish nationalism very well". León also considers adamant to understand the power of the Madrid president the fact that the PP voter is more centralist in the Spanish capital than in other parts of the state and that since the beginning of the pandemic the PP has made policies closer to Vox voters than to those of the PP.

The mirage of low taxes

If there is one promise repeated by Ayuso in her campaign, it has been to make "the biggest tax cuts in history" - a promise she made in 2019 before being elected president -. Madrid boasts the lowest tax policy, but is this really the case? In an attempt to defend its taxation, the Madrid president's team has this week released a calculator that, even so, shows that low taxes - in this case of the regional personal income tax brackets - only benefit the richest. A person earning a thousand euros a month gains nothing compared to another community, while someone earning 150,000 euros a year saves up to 10.5 per cent compared to communities governed by the socialists, some 3,000 euros.

"It is another example of the neoliberal policies of the PP aimed at the richest segments of the population", says Carlos Berzosa, professor of applied economics and former rector of the Complutense University. In fact, he details that according to the most recent studies the elimination of wealth and inheritance and, with less importance, the reduction of personal income tax, only benefit 7% of the population. "The growth of Madrid is not due to low taxes, it is due to the effect of the capital and talent", he says. But in his view, this narrative "has created a new middle class, a nouveau riche, poorly informed and delighted with the region's poorly redistributive policies".

The economist José Carlos Díez points in the same direction and denies that Madrid is the one who is emerging better from the crisis of the coronavirus. He gives as an example the business and weekend tourism -where it has suffered the sharpest fall of all the State-. Berzosa also says that "they wanted to save the economy to the detriment of health, but they have not obtained positive data in the economic evolution".

Cars of the 'orange tide' demonstrating against the Celaá law and the government of Pedro Sánchez

A very unequal education

Inequality at the level of taxes also translates into educational inequality. If there is a group in which the PP has gained followers in recent months is, in addition to the hospitality industry, that of families who take their children to charter schools (Madrid is precisely, with the Basque Country, the community with less presence of public education, 55% compared to 30% of charter and 15% of private schools). It is 4.30pm and a group of four mothers are waiting for their children to leave the Nuestra Señora de las Delicias school in the Arganzuela neighbourhood. They all say that on 4-M it is at stake that their children can continue to attend this school and they have actively mobilised as part of the orange tide against the Celaá law, which reverses the Wert law and establishes that places must always be guaranteed, prioritising public schools.

In Madrid there is the possibility of choosing a school, regardless of proximity. However, this only happens if there are free places. PSOE admits that much of the new education law was made to end the practices of the Community of Madrid, where the weight of public schools has fallen by 5% since the PP governs. María Elena Vaquero, coordinator of CCOO Teaching and member of the Marea Verde (Green Tide), recalls how the PP has systematically ceded public land to charter schools, while Madrid has become the community that invests the least per student: 4,727 euros per year, half that of Euskadi. It represents 2.25% of Madrid's GDP; the state average stands at 4.27%.

Catholic Schools of Madrid have campaigned in their centres and Emilio Díaz, their spokesman, assures that "on 4-M the charter school model is in danger if the leftists win". He vehemently refutes that this model creates more inequality, while Vaquero shows the latest report by Save the Children, which places Madrid as the region with more ghetto schools in the OECD after Turkey. "We are seeing how classes are being taken out of public schools to give them to charter schools and Ayuso has promised to continue with this model", he concludes.

The lowest investment in health

In addition to the lowest investment in education in the state, there is also the lowest investment in health. The management of Madrid's hospitals is the result of years of attempts at privatisation and covert privatisation, as well as real estate policies to create large health centres that were then deprived of a day-to-day budget. The former president of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, promoted the construction of eight hospitals which she distributed among the eight big Spanish construction companies. Today some of them are not working at full capacity, such as the Infanta Sofia in Ensanche de Vallecas, which has an empty floor. That is why different groups of the Marea Blanca (White Tide) were up in arms when Ayuso announced the creation of the Hospital Enfermera Isabel Zendal without clarifying who would work there - in the end she has ended up removing doctors from other centres.

Madrid offers a choice of doctor, health centre and hospital. For the PP, this is one of the Spanish capital's great identity shots. But behind this decision, according to Mar Noguerol, a primary care doctor and member of the Association of Medical Specialists of Madrid, is the intention to "encourage referrals to private centres" after the attempt to privatise six hospitals by the minister Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, which Ayuso rescued last year for his team, was thwarted by the courts. If a public hospital is overcrowded, the patient ends up opting for a private clinic with a shorter waiting queue.

The result, explains Fátima Cortés, spokesperson for the Madrid Public Health Association, is "progressive budget cuts and no reinforcement of staff". "There is no clear programme from the PP in terms of healthcare despite the pandemic", she exclaims. Meanwhile, private insurance has not stopped growing during the covid year. Almost 4 out of 10 Madrileños now have one, and they are only surpassed by Catalonia, despite the fact that growth is stronger in the Spanish capital, which only devotes 3.7% of GDP to healthcare - the Spanish average is 5.6%.

A capital city split in two

However, if the imprint of the PP's neoliberal policies has been reflected in one place, it is in Madrid's urban landscape. The Spanish capital has no regulatory framework - not even for business hours. In fact, Ayuso's main hallmark is "the absence" of regulations. It is striking that the only law she has approved in two years of legislature before calling the elections is the controversial modification of the land law. This is a law that, among other things, allows for the abolition of the majority of licences and the liberalisation of the urban planning sector.

Alberto Laboreiro retired recently, but he was deputy regional director of Planning of the Community of Madrid during the five years of government of the socialist Joaquín Leguina - who is now asking for Ayuso's vote - and during 25 years of the PP. In his doctoral thesis on spatial planning in 2015 he assured that "the model of land occupation" of the community in the last two decades "has obeyed market supply factors and not the needs of the population". It also noted an "unsustainable overexploitation" of land in a region with little land for agriculture and livestock and plenty of room to grow.

This has led to a dispersed, low-intensity, peripheral growth that causes an increase in car use to the detriment of public transport. The most direct consequence is that Madrid is the city with more direct deaths from nitrogen dioxide pollution in a recent study covering 585 cities.

Ayuso claimed during the 2019 campaign that "car queues are a sign of Madrid's identity". The Spanish capital is one of the few where car use has increased over public transport since the 1990s. At the same time, the inequality between the north (increasingly richer) and the south (increasingly poorer) has also been widening. "You don't have to go into a ghetto to see how the city degrades as you go south. There has been a neglect of the working-class periphery, which also has the worst environmental quality", explains Eva García, an urban architect.

A conservative media fan

A conservative media whirlwind

Ayusismo not only has in its favour to win 25 years of inherited PP policies, but also a large conservative media loudspeaker to back up its strategy. As Berzosa points out, the left has been relegated to the digital media. The Spanish capital, in fact, has no regional newspaper, so they are all converted. "There is unconditional support from the press for Spanish nationalism and this is the lever for people to vote for PP, Vox and Cs", Sánchez-Cuenca explains.

According to the sociologist, the fact that "consecrated intellectuals have abandoned social democratic convictions for neoliberal ones" has given a great boost to the PP. He gives the example of Fernando Savater, who, like the socialist Leguina, has asked for the vote for Ayuso after having gone from being an anti-system to support UPyD and Cs. In fact, Savater and Mario Vargas Llosa will be the protagonists of a colloquium organized by the Press Association of Madrid precisely on the day of reflection under the title "Expresión de libertad" (Expression of freedom).

Paradoxically, Ayuso has turned her back on her public TV station: Telemadrid. A journalist by training, she believes she is the only president who "has a TV that is critical of her" and she barely set foot on it for the first time before the start of the campaign. The president of the works council, Luis Lombardo, denounces that Ayuso wants, as Aguirre did, a "tool at her service" and that is why at the moment she is drowning them economically. If the Madrid president were to get this piece and continue governing, she would extend the mandate of her mentor. In this way, she would fit all the pieces together to continue consolidating her homegrown nationalism.