The Labour leader has not congratulated Syriza. Photo: Getty
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"A decision for them": Ed Miliband's notably cautious reaction to Syriza's win

The Labour leader has responded rather late, and very carefully, to the Greek anti-austerity party's election win.

Ed Miliband has finally reacted to the news that the anti-austerity, left-wing party, Syriza, has won the Greek general election. His response to this big development for the left in Europe had been noticeably absent until around midday today, a long time after the outcome of the election was clear. 

Now that the party leader Alexis Tsipras has become Prime Minister and formed a coalition government, Miliband has finally commented on the story, as reported on PoliticsHome:

Just like our elections are a matter for the people of this country, so who the Greek people elect is a decision for them.

It is the responsibility of the British government to work with the elected government of Greece for the good of Britain and Europe and not to play politics.

And it is up to each country to choose its own path on how to deal with the economic and social challenges they face.

We have set out our path for Britain: to make sure our country is fairer and more prosperous and balance the books.

What is notable about his statement is that there is not even a hint of congratulation. Instead, he reverts to a half-hearted warning against playing politics, and a vague appreciation of democracy: classic tropes espoused by equivocating politicians. 

The reason for his reticence is clear. With the only significant anti-austerity party of the left in the UK, the Greens, surging in popularity, it is tricky for Miliband to be too positive about the successes of a party that reflects their ideology. The Greens are growing as a potential threat to his party's support; many on the left are disappointed by Labour's general acceptance of the coalition's austerity drive. Also, the fear is that Syriza taking power could lead to Grexit, and Miliband has been firm in his support for Britain's EU membership and refused to pledge a referendum on the matter.

There will also be a reluctance on Labour's part to endorse the win of what was once a fringe party, as the British political establishment has been dramatically rattled by the rise of smaller parties, making Labour's position more precarious ahead of the general election.

In contrast, the Green party has congratulated Syriza wholeheartedly. Here is a joint statement issued this morning by Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for southeast England, and Molly Scott Cato, finance spokesperson for the party and MEP for southwest England:

The result of the Greek elections has shown that the people of Greece have taken a strong stand against the politics of austerity. Greens share the view of the new government that austerity is a failed model which has piled misery on the poorest while making the wealthiest even richer. This result shows that challenging business as usual politics can win the support of the people. In the UK we are witnessing a Green Surge, in no small part due to our anti-austerity agenda, and we hope the Greek election result marks the beginnings of ordinary people standing up to a discredited economic model and failing governments across Europe.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.