The Labour leader has not congratulated Syriza. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

"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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.