Papandreou and the one trillion euro question

Greeks are hoping for two things: leadership and a miracle.

It is not often that a prime minister stands up to make a speech to his party's MPs only to have his finance minister, and second in command in the party ranks, follow up by saying the exact opposite. That kind of political theatre takes epic dimensions when it happens as the country is on the verge of collapse.

But that is the state of Greek politics as we await a confidence vote that will determine the PM's fate. He seems isolated, having lost the trust of his people, the opposition, his party and his EU peers in the European Council.

Domestically George Papandreou has to deal with an internal rebellion in his own party, unhappy not just about the way he announced a referendum but mostly for having to lend their support to hugely unpopular austerity measures that has gained them the fury of the electorate.

Papandreou also has to deal with an opposition that has been playing politics throughout the process, refusing to provide him with political support in the hope they can force his government to collapse.

In the international scene, his referendum move has cost him all legitimacy with his EU partners, forcing them to accept for the first time that Greece leaving the euro is a very real possibility indeed.

So what happens now? A lot depends on the kind of deal Papandreou is able to strike with his own party and the opposition.

Many in the ruling Pasok want to see him go, not least his finance minister Evangelos Venizelos. The same goes for the New Democracy opposition. They have in the past 24 hours entertained the notion of a grand coalition government only to withdraw their support for such a notion hours later and suggest a government of technocrats to ratify the new bail-out package before calling for elections.

They are adamant not to offer any political cover to the PM and they want to ensure that he is nowhere near a new government.

Having said that the outcome of tonight's confidence vote is not set in stone yet. Papandreou might just survive, in which case the question is whether he will try to get the bail-out plan through parliament with the support of his party alone, pursue a coalition government that the opposition does not want or call an election.

The problem is that nobody knows whether an election will produce a conclusive result.

Politicians' popularity is at an all time low, no matter which party they come from. So the protest vote is expected to be big and a hang parliament very likely. Which means we will have to go into another electoral contest or a coalition government, which takes us back to square one, having wasted time and recourses in a divisive election campaign with the whole world watching.

Not to mention that the next instalment of IMF money will not be released until the new bail-out programme is agreed, an important factor in the equation considering the Greeks have some expensive bills to pay by mid December. Time is off the essence.

What does all that mean for the EU and the Eurozone? Uncertainty in Greece is causing nervousness in the markets with a direct impact in the way they view Italy, the latest victim of self-fulfilling prophecies.

But in many ways, and despite the turmoil, it buys time for the eurozone leaders to iron out all the outstanding details that were left pending after the 26-27 October European Council.

The fact is that two thirds of that deal remain intact and provided EU leaders push forward with plans to recapitalise banks and strengthen the EFSF (the eurozone's bail-out pot of money) the eurozone should be sound in the short and medium term.

Returning to Greece, the one trillion euro question is whether the country will be able to salvage its eurozone membership. The stakes are high and the consequences catastrophic.

A default and a return to the drachma will see the value of the new currency fall through the floor, with the cost of the debt, which will be in euros but serviced in drachmas, going through the roof. Greeks' savings will evaporate, not that this will mater much with the banking sector collapsing all around them.

Hence it is imperative that the government (and the opposition) get hold of the situation, abandon brinkmanship and Machiavellian manoeuvring and put the wellbeing of the country first. It's is hard to predict what the next few hours will bring but everyone is hoping for two things.
Leadership and a miracle.

Petros Fassoulas is the Chairman of the European Movement UK.

Petros Fassoulas is the chairman of European Movement UK

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To beat the Trump hype, we need a return to old-fashioned political virtues

If we want to resist the Trumpification of politics, what we need is restraint, duty and incorruptibility.

After the 1992 US presidential election, Alistair Cooke’s celebrated BBC radio series Letter from America struck a poignant note. Cooke described Bill Clinton’s worn jeans and checked wool shirt, contrasting them with George H W Bush’s buttoned-up Wasp manners and buttoned-down Ivy League shirts. Clinton’s style, Cooke argued, was a rebuke to a tired social and political establishment. His casualness was the new America.

Cooke, then 83, was honest enough to admit unease about this departure from the old, patrician modes and manners. “Along with the passing of George Bush,” he said, “we shall see, I fear, the passing of the blue blazer.” Cooke seemed right at the time. But don’t write off the blue blazer just yet. As ruling elites change, so does the appropriate counterpoint. To topple Bush’s stuffy golf club elites, Clinton picked up his saxophone, took off his tie and felt everyone’s pain. And now? The subtext of these turbulent months (the inevitable second question, prompted by “How do you beat Donald Trump?”) is: “What should ­tomorrow’s leaders, the leaders we crave, look and sound like?”

My conjecture is that, to beat Trump and his type – bling, shiny suits, dodgy deals – we should push towards centre stage an underestimated set of political virtues: restraint, duty and incorruptibility. If it weren’t for the gender associations, I would be tempted to call this quality gentlemanliness. Aside from personal virtue – signally lacking in the Clinton camp – how might decency inform public debate as it comes under attack from maverick showmen trained in the media circus? How can the middle ground regain its confidence?

First, level with the public. Maybe liberalism hasn’t failed so much as its messaging has failed. Instead of smashing the electorate over the head with the idea that everything is just great, make the case that not everything can be for the best in all possible worlds. As populists reach for empty slogans, a new space has opened up. Accept and exploit those asymmetries: more people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths than politicians imagine.

Kingsley Amis once argued that a writer’s voice should stay close to his speaking voice: not the same, but close. Adapting that idea, if politicians stayed closer in public debate to the truths that they articulate in casual conversation – some things are impossible; almost every policy creates a losing as well as a winning side; there really isn’t any money – they would be surprised how many people are ready to hear that not all problems can be evaporated into thin air. Stray too far from awkward truths and elections become about simple lies v tricksy lies.

Second, centrists do more harm than good when they rush to categorise dissenting opinion as not only wrong, but unacceptable. “Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal,” as John Gray wrote in a recent NS essay, “will provoke spasms of righteous indignation.” Instead, we need to be more tolerant in our tolerance.

Third, stop pretending that everything desirable can be shoehorned into the “progressive” agenda. “I really care passionately about persevering with the common-sense middle ground and doing it quite well” is a problematic political sales pitch, but not for the reasons that are usually given. The gravest difficulty may come at the beginning, with the faux passion, rather than with the substance – public service and competence – underneath.

It is revealing that those closest to David Cameron expended so much energy trying to persuade us that he was not an updated version of Harold Macmillan. That is why the gay marriage reforms, though admirable, were accorded too much significance. Ah, Cameron was a natural crusader! But he paid a price for dressing up as a “radical” when greater challenges arrived. It weakened some of his strongest cards – calmness, perspective, proportion – just as politics was coarsening. Aren’t Tories supposed to understand the virtues of yesterday? In other words, as an electoral strategy to beat Trump (or Nigel Farage), I’d put up a Macmillan type over a Clinton type every time.

Fourth, cut ties with “messaging experts”. It’s a fraud. They teach that everything must be asserted with powerful conviction. Yet ideas unworthy of powerful conviction are best left shorn of them. The electorate has endured a communications version of crying wolf. As a result of the messaging game, when something genuinely important crops up, it sounds simply like the same old shtick.

Fifth, ditch the bogus quantification. Few things signal untrustworthiness more reliably than fake precision. Something shifted in me when George Osborne argued that Brexit would leave households £4,300 worse off. What, no decimal point? Voters understand uncertainty better than politicians imagine. Precise quantification used to sound professional. Now it sounds suspicious.

Finally, think about tone. Conventional wisdom holds that the mainstream must fight the Trumpian revolution on its own terms: a simple solution, memorably expressed, a guiding vision for the country or the world. If anyone has a good one to hand, I’m all for it. But what if – after decades of ­sophisticated argument and counterargument, as politics has solved the easy problems while parking the difficult or insoluble ones – we have reached a state of such evolved equilibrium that no such easy answer can exist?

Pretending otherwise is no longer a point of difference. It takes you towards the lowest common denominator. As Trump has shown, that is well-occupied territory. Perhaps wooing the angry mob is not the solution. Instead, the admirable and successful politician of the future will have to win back the support of moderate, sensible but disillusioned voters. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage