Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attention spans

There is an election today. Had you noticed it? You might not have done. It's an election in a country still gripped by one of the worst financial crises of post-war Europe. Remember now? The country that earlier this year had people salivating over a word that they had been scarcely aware of before, oxi. Oh yes, that country. The one that had left-leaning commentators gushing clichés about cradles of democracy and the like. The one that had neo-Keynesian economists like Krugman and Sachs allying with eurosceptic conservatives such as the Telegraph's Evans-Pritchard, urging actions on macro economic policy whilst dismissing the micro economic conditions that would have undermined them. There was nothing wrong with their critique of austerity, or of its impact on Greece, it is just that they didn't align their prescriptions with the real country. The pro-Euro writer, Yannis Palaiologos, author of some superb reportage in The13th Labour of Hercules: Inside the Greek Crisis, is scornful:
I am referring in particular here to high profile U.S. economists, like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, who have led the global anti-austerity campaign and have made my country a cause célèbre in that struggle. They have been right to argue that too much austerity has been imposed on Greece, and that further debt relief is required. But in recent months, as relations between Athens and its creditors have deteriorated, they have served Greece’s cause very poorly indeed... exit from the euro, which Greeks never voted for anyway, either in January or in July, would have been an unmitigated catastrophe, dwarfing the costs even of the bad deal struck on July 13.
And now that Greece did that deal, they and their followers have lost interest. Greeks only mattered to them as the objects of their theories. They would always walk away.

It is the same for many on the left. Think back to the enthusiasm bubbling up from that inspiring insurgent movement, surging from the grass roots to power, with its tie-less leaders and a cool motorbike riding finance minister. The one that failed. It's been abandoned too.

After some badly-chosen anti-German jibes about tanks and collaborators, and a few days of tweeting about coups when Germany had pushed through a new €83 billion funding package for the country, albeit with horribly stringent conditions, the left found a new object of desire. Not only is he often tie-less, but he wears a vest. OK he has hung out with a few fascists and anti-Semites from time to time, but, hey, he was only trying to make peace. And he crowd sources questions. The Tory press are smearing him because they are really scared (not thinking that they can't believe their luck). This is the new politics now. It will change everything. OK, I know he isn't actually elected to government, but he won! Who says he is unelectable when two hundred and fifty thousand activists have just voted for him? (Er, the electorate is forty-five million).

This band of hope, these evangelicals following the latest Messiah, would do well to have a glance back at their previous saviour. Securely in the lead in the polls, Tsipras called an election. But now the polls are level. He may lose to the conservative Nea Dimokratia. Popular Unity, the former Left Platform that split from Syriza, faces a wipeout. Everyone I talked to said the same. There is no enthusiasm, people don't know who to vote for, turnout will be low as disillusionment is high. And if the left doesn't at least try to understand the reasons for this failure, learn from it, and adjust its aims and strategy accordingly, then they will fall to defeat after defeat. The movement will die, leaving children growing up in poverty, families depending on food banks, with no one to speak for them and to defend them. Fantasy politics is self-indulgence, nothing more.

And as for the Greeks, struggling under austerity policies that make Tory Britain look positively munificent, don't they deserve a bit more solidarity than their brief moment in the international limelight as the object of the wet dreams of middle class lefties, before they move on to their next austerity porn star? Or are they just yesterday's craze, mouldering in the bottom of the toy box?

Greece has deep structural problems, but it is also a resilient country. This is a lovely piece from Marcus Walker and Myrto Papadopoulos.
 ... many Greeks have given up waiting for their politicians to find a way out of the country’s long economic crisis. Instead, national recovery and renewal will come about through the sum of ordinary people’s efforts, more and more people say.
Athens-based photographer Myrto Papadopoulos travelled the country in the week before the elections and asked Greeks from widely different walks of life how their country could finally leave its crisis era behind it. What she discovered was a mixture of resignation about Greek politics and belief in the innate creativity and resourcefulness of ordinary Greeks.
The obstacles to change are formidable, and include chronically fractious and unstable politics. Building a more functional Greek economy and polity will take years—perhaps a decade or even a generation, many Greeks say. But they insist they will get there. 
 Let's not forget them as they rebuild.

Syriza won. This time as a pro-Euro, centre left party, defending Greece's interests within the terms of the memorandum, rather than pledged to ending austerity.


Syriza have reformed the coalition with ANEL, the right wing ultra-nationalist party, again raising the question of whether this is a leftist or a nationalist government. Popular Unity, the left wing of Syriza that split away over the deal with the EU, failed to enter the parliament having fallen below the 3% threshold. Turnout was a record low of around 56%. Voting is compulsory in Greece.

And a clarification, the failure I was referring to in the post above, was the failure in their stated aim of ending austerity. They ended up doing a deal that intensified it and now they have to implement it.

A good reflection on the result from Nick Malkoutzis here.


looby said...

I'm sure you're aware of this Corbyn would have won had the electorate been confined to Party members only.

And I can't see what's wrong about asking your own supporters what questions they'd like to have answered in Parliament. The ones he chose were good ones -- including a desperately urgent one about how the cuts to tax credits are helping the sainted figure of the "hard-working family".

Anton Deque said...

Asking questions on someone's behalf is a commonplace in Parliament. References to a constituent's problems abound. However, Corbyn made the exercise seem like a steam wireless request programme, complete with authentic posh accents. What if Mrs Schicklegrubber writes in and wants Corbyn to ask the P.M. why he isn't re-introducing capital punishment – because believe you me, that would be popular. As for the percentage game, Corbyn has by dising both Queen and Country in Week One, alienated that most loyal and sentimentally patriotic core vote, the white working class. Septuagenarians with hennaed hair and rush matting will cheer, but the vital middle ground is full of people Corbyn despises and they know it.

The Plump said...

Looby, you have missed my main point, which is that this whole thing is based on a "movement" that is shallow, uncommitted and entirely self-referential. Corbyn is the latest craze, when (not if, unless he changes completely and a miracle happens) he loses they will drift off somewhere else. Regardless of how many members and supporters voted for him, they are not the national electorate. Your views are not those of the electorate. Mine certainly aren't, but I don't think that the Labour party should agree with me. Labour should be seeking power. Even early doors, Corbyn's polling figures are terrible. I think that they will get worse. See
He is going to lose and lose badly, so all this is pointless.
The best comparison is when the Tories first opened out their leadership election to members and ended up with IDS. He was a catastrophe and so they knifed him.

The Plump said...

And you should read this