Going Greek

Evangelos Venizelos

As we move even closer to a double-dip recession, or even a possible 1930′s style depression, what is happening in Greece and to a lesser extent in Ireland should be a warning to British social democrats. Do you remember just a short time ago that Cameron, Osborne and the Tory press were laughing at Ed Balls for predicting just this possibility?

Let’s look at the Greeks. The political gymnastics of George Papandreou have been a wonder to behold. As head of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Labour’s sister party in Greece, he won an election in 2009 after the financial and economic crisis had already hit. This isn’t to say that PASOK is innocent of all charges relating to the economic crisis in Greece. Prior to 2004 it was the government and like other European social democrat parties including our own found it easy to follow the neo-liberal economic policies of the Reagan/Thatcher era. Charges of cronyism and sleaze abound from that period.

Having been elected as prime minister like his father and grandfather before him, he decided to protect the interests of the Greek and European bankers rather than the Greek citizens. Finding that the majority of Greeks disagreed with being the victims of the mistakes of bankers and politicians and many being prepared to take to the streets to show their displeasure, he needed to find a way of getting out of the firing line.

He first attempted to involve the opposition in a government of national unity to share the blame but they spurned him. His next idea was to have a referendum to allow the Greeks to vote on whether to accept the austerity measures. He didn’t do this in the expectation that the vote would go against him. He thought that he could blackmail Greeks into self-harm by threatening them with disaster if they moved away from the EU prescriptions.

Sarkozy and Merkel obviously had far less faith in getting the right result from a referendum than Papandreou and immediately went to work to stop Greeks being able to vote. They are now doing their best to unseat Papandreou and replace him with PASOK MPs more likely to be acceptable to the conservative opposition in a government of national unity. Evangelos Venizelos, the finance minister, seems the most likely to fill this position for at least the next few months while the austerity measures are implemented.

So how does this affect us you may ask? How much worse would the economic situation have to get in Britain before the Tory press starts to call for a national unity government? If this call did go out could we imagine any Labour dignitaries, leaders and MPs willing to join such a coalition? Of course we know some already have and I suspect it wouldn’t take that much to get the likes of Mandelson, Blears and others onboard. David Miliband would be big one. How much would it take to convince him?

And yet we should learn from history, and we probably have more party history than the Greeks. Any attempt to do a PASOK by helping the bankers destroy all that we fought for in citizens rights over many years would be a repeat of the treachery of Ramsay MacDonald. We should be vigilant against any attempt to hop into bed with the Tories. There are some in the party who would like to get their hands on power again no matter what the cost. To these people the history of the party means nothing. To them, as Alex Hilton said in a recent Labourlist post, all the party has is a brand name they would like to use. There are some in Greece who see the same in PASOK.

  • LesAbbey

    “There is so much rage we can’t even leave our homes any more,” said one Pasok MP. “A lot of us ideologically were against the measures the IMF demanded that we pass, but there was nothing we could do. Now they call us traitors.”

    From a Guardian report

  • swatantra

    Isn’t it about time that we put an end to dynanastic families dominating the political scene. The Papandreous and Karamanlises have dominated the political scene for decades, and frankly its a disgrace. We wouldn’t torerate it here.
    And isn’t it about time that the Greeks and Italiana realised that the World does not owe them a living and that they must end all these corrupt Spanish practices that have infiltrated Greek society. Its an absolute disgrace.
    And isn’t it time that Brtain had a Govt of National Unity for 2 years to get us out of the mess that the Bankers got us into. We’ll be slipping into double dip next year, things are going to get a lot lot worse; new measures will brought in to curb excesses, growth will cease inflation will rise, there’ll be a collapse in confidence. The time will come for a nonploitical head to lead a Govt of National Unity and we must respond in the right way.
    Incidently MacDonald has been much maligned quite unfairly by the Labour movement, as I’ve said elsewhere. Our present crisis is as severe as ’31, and we cannot walk away like the previous Labour leaders and split the Party and make it unelectable for generations. Ironically the Labour Leadership at the time were quite happy to jump into bed with Churchill have forced Chamberlain to stand down as PM. They went into Coalition even though the darkest days of the War had not yet visited us and the horrors were yet to come.

    • LesAbbey

      Swatantra there’s not much I can say except that I disagree with you in almost everything you say above. I suspect being an apologist for Ramsay MacDonald is something only you and the patron saint of lost causes could do.

      With Blair, the one thing that made him extremely angry was any comparison with MacDonald.

    • Anonymous

      Funny old world.

  • swatantra

    … and Papandreou messed up big time by calling for a Referendum without consultating his colleagues and putting the whole financial package in jeopardy and causing the markets into jittery decline. Such gross incompetance is a sackable offence. PASOKs name is mud as far as the Greek electorate is concerned. Its almost an excuse for the Army to move in and establish control and stability.

    • LesAbbey

      Maybe the fear of a referendum points to something in today’s political class that can’t be pushed aside. Papandreou was elected under false pretenses of fighting the EU and has no mandate for what he was agreeing to. A referendum would have given him, or not, that mandate. A national unity government would still have no mandate.

      Swatantra would you really agree to a national unity government here consisting of Labour serving under a conservative prime minister, perhaps even Cameron?

      If so it would show the danger the party could be in right now.

      • swatantra

        Perhaps a Govt of National Unity under a neutral figure would be acceptable, but certainly not under Cameron.
        Or, under a respected Labour Leader would be preferable.

    • http://thepeoplesflag.blogspot.com/ Andy Williams

      Papandreou probably saw the option of a referendum as a means to end the street violence. The people would have voted in favour (reluctantly) and that would have destabilised the anti-government protests.

      As it is, the protests are going to get worse, two of the coalition are refusing to sign acceptance of the terms and the coalition is in deep trouble less than a week after it came into being and probably won’t make Christmas.

  • Anonymous

    Italy will be fun never mind Greece rumour going around it could end a number of banks if they go bust, the EU fund for emergency, stands at 250 billion and the Italians need a trillion.

    Then you have Spain and Portugal, Ireland, and then you have the New Countries coming in needing trillions to get their infrastructure up and going before they all end up in Wales.

    The good old days, war anyone.