Once upon a time, the city of Barcelona was an impregnable stronghold of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). It was the territory that was consolidated by the first political generals of this party such as Narcís Serra and, above all, Pasqual Maragall, who governed with unquestionable majorities. However, the party failed to maintain power in the city after Maragall, the charismatic mayor of the 1992 Olympics, decided to make the jump to Catalan national politics and left the city council in the middle of a legislature, after fifteen straight years of clear mandates.
Evolution of % of votes won by parties in Barcelona municipal elections (1979-2019)
Two years after the departure of Maragall, successor Joan Clos was still able to take advantage of the PSC's momentum and in 1999 improved the last result of his predecessor, but in 2003 the Socialists began a downward slide that would continue, in 2007, with Jordi Hereu. Thus, in the 2011 elections, Xavier Trias managed to capture Barcelona from the PSC for the first time. The centre-right Catalanist alliance, Convergència i Unió (CiU), was in those elections the most voted party and with the most councillors -15 - while the PSC took 11. The ten districts of Barcelona were divided equally between the two parties.
Collboni hits rock bottom
The last blow to the Socialists came four years later, in 2015, with Ada Colau. The emergence of the housing activist as leader of the Barcelona en Comú list swept the PSC from the districts it still held. That year, the first in which Jaume Collboni led the candidacy, the PSC collapsed, registering the worst result in its history in Barcelona. He won only four councillors and failed to take any of the city's 74 neighourhoods. However, the agreement with the Comuns to make Colau mayor allowed the Socialists to return to municipal government and stay afloat. Collboni assumed the first deputy mayoral role.
In the last elections, in 2019, the PSC managed to stop the rot. Still far from its past results, however, its result was the second worst ever: a third place, with 8 councillors. The PSC took back the district of Nou Barris and 15 neighbourhoods in other districts of the capital, including Sant Martí de Provençals, Verneda, Vall d'Hebron, Carmel and Teixonera. In addition, ERC's victory over Colau made the support of the Socialists more expensive for BComú, although the clear shared understanding was that there would not be a pro-independence government in the Catalan capital.
% of votes won by the PSC in the 2019 municipal election, district by district.
Divorce with Colau
Collboni again took the position of first deputy mayor in the Ada Colau council when, through the post-electoral pact and with the essential support of Manuel Valls and his Ciudadanos candidacy, Ernest Maragall was shoved aside despite winning the election. However, after eight years supporting the Colau administration, the PSC candidate decided to distance himself from Barcelona en Comú's management of the city and he unleashed a surprise at the end of January by announcing that he was resigning from his city council post to prepare the campaign. Collboni walked out on eight years of municipal marriage with Colau at a time when the polls made clear not only that there was a strong majority opposition among Barcelona residents to the mayor returning for a third term, but also a widespread rejection among the voters themselves of the PSC in the face of this possibility.
On the other hand, the surveys also showed that the negative assessment of the mayor's performance was very much focused on her personal leadership and did not extend to her government partners, and thus the PSC maintained its presence in the council. Collboni had left home, but left his toothbrush there. The Socialist intends to return to the city government, but has constantly avoided clarifying who he expects to partner.
Appeal to the centre
Socialist sources affirm that the PSC is close to winning the mayoral race, that the party is mobilized and positive, that "for the first time in years, it believes that the PSC has chances of winning", in elections that are currently being considered as a back-and-forth with the Junts candidate, although the polls repeatedly show that the Comuns are still present among the contenders for victory.
Collboni's campaign aims, according to his strategists, are to win back the voters who gave the PSC its historic victories in Barcelona, at a time when the Socialists with Pedro Sánchez have regained momentum in the Spanish state as a whole. "A very Socialist campaign", they underline, in which both Pedro Sánchez and Salvador Illa are playing their parts. However, the PSC also seeks to offer refuge to voters disenchanted with Ada Colau's Comuns or supporters of the political centre, ranging from, on the one hand, those who come from the former Convergència, but do not feel comfortable with the militant pro-independence stands of Junts and Carles Puigdemont, to - on the other - Barcelona residents that four years ago supported Manuel Valls' bet on Ciudadanos and are now looking for a new electoral home in the face of the complete implosion of Cs that has taken place since then.
% of votes won by the PSC in the 2019 municipal election, broken down by neighbourhoods.
This strategy means that the party list is "very PSC, but also very transversal", incorporating as number two Maria Eugènia Gay, former Spanish government delegate in Catalonia and former president of the Barcelona Bar Association, in addition to being the daughter of former Spanish Constitutional Court judge Eugeni Gay - a candidate to help penetrate parts of the well-to-do uptown districts of Barcelona. But the list also has a nod to the Comuns voters through the signing of the former leader of the 2015 Catalunya Yes We Can list, Lluís Rabell.
On the ground, the intention is for this plan to facilitate the recovery and consolidation in PSC's traditional district strongholds where the Comuns have been installed in the last elections, but it should also allow entry into territories with a more conservative profile, such as Eixample, Sarrià or Les Corts. To achieve this, they claim to have designed a campaign based on an "appeal to return to being what the city has been", and which, according to Socialist strategists, is based on three keys: order - a clean and tidy Barcelona -, opportunity - a place where you live and work - and pride. All together, accompanied by a remarkable avoidance of the role that the party has played in the city government over the last eight years.