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.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.