The dust settles on Greece, but where does it go from here?

New Democracy must now form a coalition, and the EU has a contradiction to resolve

The New Democracy party has won the Greek legislative elections with 29.7 per cent on the vote, narrowly beating the radical left-wing party SYRIZA, which earned 26.9 per cent, in what is widely seen as a referendum on the Greek people's acceptance of the EU-imposed austerity package.

Under Greek electoral law, ND is awarded an extra 50 parliamentary seats for coming in first place, which means it has 129 seats overall. A viable coalition requires at least 150, however, so it will still have to find a coalition partner. It is most likely to join forces with the centre-left party, PASOK, previously its major opponent in fights for the centre-ground of Greek politics but now an uneasy bedfellow as implementing the European memorandum (which ties the Greek government to large spending cuts) takes priority.

A PASOK-ND coalition would have 162 seats, and appears likely to be topped up with another 17 from the Democratic Left party (DIMAR), formed of ex-PASOK and SYRIZA MPs. There are several hurdles to be overcome before this coalition can be put in place, not least of which is the self-serving nature of PASOK itself.

Reports from Greece indicate that PASOK's leaders are only too aware that being in charge of a second round of crippling spending cuts could destroy their electoral base, particularly when they have such a viable contender for the left's votes in the form of SYRIZA. As a result, senior figures at PASOK are suggesting that they won't join a coalition unless SYRIZA joins as well - something which the radical left is unlikely to countenance.

While it seems likely that PASOK are only making such a demand out of a desire not to seem too eager to run into the arms of their former enemies, it highlights the difficulty this coalition will have in doing anything not related to the near-state of emergency that Greece is currently experiencing. Many of the more pessamistic analysts and commentators are predicting a breakdown in relations before the end of the year, leading to a third set of elections – one which SYRIZA would almost certainly win.

Even if the full ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition comes about, all Greece has achieved today is a return to the status quo of earlier this year. Greece remains in the euro for the foreseeable future, but the root of its problems with the EU are no closer to being addressed. The austerity which the coalition will impose will keep Germany and the ECB happy, which will keep money flowing into the country for the time being (an undoubtedly good thing, since reports had suggested that Greece was likely to run out of money to pay its public sector around mid-July without more European funds), but eventually that spigot will have to be turned off.

In addition, the bank jog which could see Greece being mechanically ejected from the single currency won't stop just because SYRIZA came in second place. Deposits have been steadily flowing out of Greek banks since 2009, and if too many euro end up in German banks, the Greek banking sector could fail in one go. 

Even the surface level negotiations – the ones which don't solve the underlying contradictions, but merely provide the funding and credibility for Greece to carry on as it has – could go in any number of directions. The troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the IMF) is likely to head to the country as soon as there is someone to negotiate with, and there have been reports that they are likely to give the Greek people a "reward" for being co-operative. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle suggested that the coutnry may be given more time to repay its debts, and the Financial Times last week claimed that the EU was preparing to offer Greece discounted loans if New Democracy won the elections.

When the dust settles, the European Union will find that it has to decide whether it heads down the road of ever deeper fiscal integration, turning Greece into 

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.