Grexit may now be his best option. Photo: Getty Images
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Failure may now be the least-worst option for Syriza

Abjectly losing the negotiations in Brussels, and being kicked out of the Eurozone, might just be the best outcome that Syriza can hope for, says Michael Chessum in Athens.

Just over a week ago, while most of the world predicted that Greece would vote Yes in its referendum and that the government would fall, almost every campaigner and bypasser we met predicted that No would scrape it. They didn’t predict the massive 61 per cent mandate that Syriza would get for resisting austerity, but the universal response you got from campaigners – especially during and after the gigantic rally in Syntagma Square two days before the poll – was “yes, I think we’ll win.”

This weekend, there is a similar but less pronounced gap, focussed not on the feeling in the streets but on negotiating rooms thousands of miles away where the fate of Greece and of the dreams that Syriza carries with it are being decided upon – or torn up, depending on your perspective. Some – including, apparently, the departed Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis – simply refuse to believe that the Greek deal, no matter how much betrayal it contemplates, will be accepted by Schauble and his allies in the Eurogroup. In both cases, the subconscious predictions made on the Greek left and beyond may well stem at least as much from a desperate sense of hope as they do from a political calculation, let alone ‘game theory’. As with winning the referendum, the rejection of the deal by the Eurozone is in many ways the only way out for the current Syriza administration – a means of saving it from its own capitulation.

Over the weekend, large numbers of young Athenians head to nearby islands to get out of the city, go camping and swim. On a ferry going in the opposite direction from the small island of Agistri this afternoon, I chatted to Nefeli, 23, and Ioanna, 20, both students and, as it turned out, members of Syriza. “We voted for a leftist government,” says Nefeli. “Then we voted, 61% of us voted, for ‘no’. But they still want to destroy us, they still want to destroy the left.” After months and months of fighting the country’s creditors, the tone of many on the Greek left and in the wider population is now understandably one of exasperation.

Many Greeks, though they disagree with the deal and the idea of another memorandum, do not blame Tsipras primarily for the current situation. The emphasis for many is on the behaviour of the Eurozone – as Nefeli puts it, “not the people of the EU but its leaders” – which has pushed Greek society to breaking point, and tested many Greeks’ support for membership of the EU. Tsipras, she says, is “doing his best”. But the credibility of the government is in jeopardy as a result of the proposed new deal, in the context of widespread politicisation and high expectations. “People have started to think more,” says Ioanna. “And I’m afraid that they won’t believe the left anymore.”

A poll for Skai, a right wing local news station, announced in time for the parliamentary vote on Friday, declared that 55.5% of Greeks ‘feel fear’ at the idea of a Grexit. But in the current climate, everything is scary: a unilateral default and a return to the Drachma would bring chaos, at least for the moment, while a continuation of the austerity contained in another memorandum would mean more suicides, more poverty, more desolation. Both outcomes bring a humanitarian crisis; and many of the 55.5 per cent who fear a Grexit will now be concluding that it is inevitable, even desirable.

In many ways, winning the referendum was the real gamble for Tsipras. Falling at that hurdle would have meant, at least in the short term, the return of the old order and the implementation of austerity, while the left resisted cleanly from opposition. Falling from power in a few weeks’ time, having sold out to Brussels in spite of an overwhelming popular mandate, could, after a bit of time and political stagnation, bring much darker forces to the fore: “If the left falls,” says Nefeli, “Golden Dawn is next. That’s what history tells us”. The far-right in Greece has positioned itself cleverly, and has been waiting for exactly this kind of compromise. Abjectly losing the negotiations in Brussels, and being kicked out of the Eurozone, might just be the best outcome that Syriza can hope for. 

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.