Golden Dawn’s third place in the polls is not all it seems

The party is only third because of the collapse of others around it.

Polls in Greece show the far-right Golden Dawn party would come third were an election held tomorrow. The party’s policies include putting landmines on the Greek border to kill illegal immigrants, and its logo is a Hellenised swastika. The country’s Prime Minister and BBC journalists alike have drawn chilling parallels between the rise of Golden Dawn and the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s.

There’s no doubt that Golden Dawn’s mere presence in the Greek Parliament is a worrying development. But the “Golden Dawn is in third place” headline – which has now spread like wildfire through commentary about the situation in Greece – doesn’t quite capture the full picture.

The party may be in third place, but not as a result of any huge growth in support since the last election: in the 2012 elections Golden Dawn ended up with 6.9 per cent and came fifth. Since the election, they have only seen a modest increase of about 3 per cent on that figure, to 9.2 per cent.

The party is only third because of the collapse of others around it. PASOK, which won 43.9 per cent of the vote and a majority in 2009 under George Papandreou, is now on 7.2 per cent after betting the farm on the Trokia’s austerity. Its votes are now mainly split between Syriza and New Democracy.

The story is similar with the Greek Communist Party (KKE): after pursuing a disastrous anti-coalition strategy in 2012, the KKE, recently third-placed itself, has lost most of its votes to Syriza. Likewise, the centre-right, anti-bailout Independent Greeks, which beat Golden Dawn in 2012, has seen its vote drain away both to New Democracy’s promised renegotiation of austerity and Syriza's anti-bailout pole of attraction.

Is it worrying that Golden Dawn has got to where it is? Absolutely. But third place is a lot less impressive than it used to be in Greece.

The party’s poll position also fails to capture the disappearance of the old main far-right party, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). LAOS were the main anti-immigration party before they joined the pro-bailout coalition government in November 2011, a decision which wiped them off the map politically.

To be sure, Golden Dawn are much nastier than LAOS: where Golden Dawn want to put landmines on the border, LAOS wanted to end all migration from outside the EU and deport many immigrants who were already in Greece – familiar demands from far-right parties across Europe.

But the disappearance of LAOS, which took 5.6 per cent in the 2009 elections, and the sudden emergence of Golden Dawn on 6.9 per cent in 2012, suggests a fairly direct transfer of votes between the two parties.

The number of voters willing to vote for a party of the far-right has gradually crept up as Greek society disintegrates, but an increase from 5.6 per cent to a notional 9.2 per cent over three years of human catastrophe is hardly meteoric, and should be viewed in perspective.

This analysis isn’t meant to denigrate those who repeat that Golden Dawn are now in third place without explaining its context. With honourable exceptions, the human tragedy that is unfolding in Greece is horrendously under-reported: an eye catching headline or two to draw attention to the folly of what is being imposed on the Greeks can only be a good thing.

The leader of Golden Dawn, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, speaks during a press conference at an Athens hotel. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jon Stone is a political journalist. He tweets as @joncstone.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.