Syriza supporters attending a rally in central Athens. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
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Why the Greek election is so important

If the pollsters are right, Syriza could win by a large margin, ending four decades of two-party rule in Greece.

The Greek election on 25 January will be the most important in recent memory. If the pollsters are proven correct, Syriza is poised to win by a large margin and this victory will end four decades of two-party rule in Greece.

Since 2010 – and as a result of austerity measures – the country has seen its GDP shrink by nearly a quarter, its unemployment reach a third of the labour force and nearly half of its population fall below the poverty line.

With the slogan “hope is coming” Syriza, a party that prior to 2012 polled around 4.5 per cent of the vote, seems to have achieved the impossible: creating a broad coalition that, at least rhetorically, rejects the TINA argument (There Is No Alternative) that previous Greek administrations have accepted. In its place, Syriza advocates a post-austerity vision, both for Greece and Europe, with re-structuring of sovereign debt at its centre.

How significant is this victory for Europe and the rest of the world? Comments range from grave concerns about the impact on the euro and the global economy to jubilant support for the renewal of the European left. For sure, Syriza is at the centre of political attention in Europe.

 

What is Syriza?

The origins of the party are to be found in a series of splits and consolidations involving various left-wing political groupings that, in one form or another, were originally related to the Communist Party of Greece. Syriza in its current form is a strategic coalition comprising a variety of political platforms that include social democrats, radical socialists and communists, environmentalists, anti-globalisation campaigners and human rights advocates.

Its original base comprised small business owners, academics and teachers with very little appeal among traditional working class voters. But the party’s current appeal is far broader, extending to the middle classes that were hit so hard by austerity measures (especially those associated with the public sector), as well as self-employed people, ex-small business owners, unemployed and underemployed people (especially youth).

Unlike other EU countries, these parts of the Greek electorate are not attracted to ultra-nationalist Eurosceptic parties. As traditional left-of centre voters they find attractive Syriza’s political narrative, a combination of anti-establishment discourse, mild left-wing patriotism, a vision that another Europe is possible and a vague hope for improving their economic and social condition.

 

What about the right?

Not all are convinced by Syriza, however. The voters attracted to far-right party Golden Dawn are traditional anti-communists who used to belong to the conservative New Democracy party or LAOS, a smaller nationalist ultra-right party.

Their appeal is among the lower middle classes (and some ultra conservative working class) who have been also hit hard by austerity. These voters have bought into the rhetoric that culprits behind Greece’s demise are the corrupt political elite and the large number of illegal migrants.

Golden Dawn’s popularity has fallen slightly in recent months, but it is still strong and according to recent polls it is likely to gain 6 per cent of the vote. But the party is politically isolated, with its leadership in prison and no access to mainstream media. It is unlikely that will play any role in the forming of any government in future.

 

Will Greece leave the euro?

How likely is that Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s charismatic 41-year-old leader, will be “the Communist Harry Potter who could implode the eurozone”?

Despite the scaremongering that often surfaces in media reports, it is clear that the majority of Syriza representatives want to avoid having to take Greece out of the common currency. Despite some eurosceptic voices in the party, the leadership can hardly be characterised as anti-European. In internal discussions, various factions within Syriza have argued for introducing a national currency but these have remained, so far, a minority voice within the party.

Instead, the current leadership of Syriza has made numerous statements that it does not intend to destroy the euro or force Greece out of the eurozone. But they also mentioned that they are not willing to keep Greece into the eurozone at any cost. If Greece leaves the euro under Syriza, it will happen not because its leadership wants to but because it will be forced to.

This rather ambivalent message has served Syriza well both domestically and externally. Domestically, it alleviated the fears of many disaffected middle class voters who are very sceptical about a return to Drachma.

Externally, it indicates the spirit with which Syriza will approach any forthcoming negotiations with the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission). Namely, that Syriza does not share the same neoliberal economic policy agenda as Greece’s lenders – and certainly challenges Germany’s insistence on continuation of austerity – but it is willing to compromise over a mutually beneficial deal.

 

What does it mean for Europe?

In terms of political rhetoric, Syriza has stated its political ambition is to change Europe as well as Greece. In what is admittedly a clever political move Syriza refused to accept the narrative of Greek exceptionalism when it comes to sovereign debt.

While attacking the incompetence and corruption of the two-party establishment that has run Greece since the 1970s, Syriza has framed the issue of Greek sovereign debt as part of the wider issue of European economic governance and, most recently, promoted the idea of a European summit on debt. In this way it opened a political space both for itself and other European political forces to change the dominant economic narrative in the EU.

Is the EU establishment going to respond? The announcement of new quantitative easing measures from the ECB marks a change in economic policy but according to chief Mario Draghi, Greece could be treated differently and any help will come with conditions. The months ahead will be tense and uncertain but one thing is for sure: nothing will be the same in Greek and European politics after Monday.

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

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times