Angela Merkel and François Hollande during a press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace tonight. Photograph: Getty Images.
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No relief in sight for Greece as Germany and the ECB toughen stances

Merkel warns that it is up to Tsipras to make new proposals as the country's banks are put under further strain. 

One of the main arguments made by Alexis Tsipras for a No vote in the Greek referendum was that it would strengthen his government's bargaining power. But a day after the country's decisive rejection of the previous eurozone offer, there is little sign that it has done so. At her joint press conference this evening with François Hollande following their meeting, Angela Merkel emphasised that the onus was on Greece to come forward with "very specific proposals" (offering no immediate concessions of her own) and even went as far as to describe the previous package as "generous". Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's vice chancellor and the leader of Merkel's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, has declared that "The ultimate insolvency of the country seems to be imminent". 

Hollande, as before, took a more accommodative stance. But while stating that "the door is open" (though not as open as he would like), he warned that "There’s not a lot of time left. There is urgency for Greece and there is urgency for Europe". Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for the euro, similarly concluded that "The no result unfortunately widens the gulf between Greece and other eurozone countries … There is no easy way out of this crisis. Too much time and too many opportunities have been lost."

It is time that is indeed the biggest obstacle to a deal. Greek's banks are close to running out of cash (one of the four biggest is reported to be on the brink). But the European Central Bank, the institution keeping them afloat, has again capped the level of emergency liquidity at €89bn. Rather than offering greater relief, it has tightened the noose by forcing the banks to provide more assets to the Bank of Greece as security against the loans. Robert Peston reports that this has reduced the spare cash-raising capacity of the banks from €17-20bn to between €5-7bn. By acting in this way, the ECB has opened itself to the charge that it has exceeded its mandate by intervening in a political dispute. 

The danger is that unless Greece makes immediate progress with the troika in the next two days, the banks will no longer able to function even at their current limited level (with ATM withdrawals limited to €60 a day and overseas transactions banned). Such a financial collapse would force Greece to leave the euro in order to allow its banks to issue a new and heavily devalued currency. Few are confident that it will be able to make a scheduled payment of €3.5bn to the ECB in two weeks' times. 

Of the three main possible outcomes to the crisis - a long-term deal to keep Greece in the euro, another short-term financing arrangement ("kicking the can down the road" as it has become known) or Grexit - it is the third that appears ever more likely. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses