Today the Greek people go to the polls to elect the Hellenic Parliament for the second time in 2015. With the result on a knife-edge between the left-wing SYRIZA coalition and the centre-right New Democracy Party, the election will have consequences both within Greece and across Europe including on British politics. The Greek crisis has been pushed out of the news due to the slowdown of the Chinese economy and the European refugee crisis, however the re-election of SYRIZA is important as it would reinvigorate the Left months before Podemos’ potential election in great numbers in the Spanish elections in November as well as encourage the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.
Firstly the re-election of a radical left-wing party shows those on the Left opposed to the European Union that it is possible to be elected repeatedly for challenging austerity, and that the real opposition should be with the Troika but more specifically the Eurozone. Now that the bailout has been agreed a SYRIZA government would be able to articulate calls for radical reform of the EU from within including debt a pan-European debt cancellation conference; this could easily be sold to more liberal minded parties as prudent for businesses as it would strengthen the Euro, reduce the uncertainty and volatility of the Eurozone, and rebalance the EU economy away from a handful of countries who have been exploiting Greece in order to improve their own economies. The election centre-right neo-liberal government would result in austerity measures not being resisted, and the continuation of a Eurozone dominated by France and Germany; with the Eurozone dominated by France and Germany, Britain’s demands for reform would be dismissed out of hand by a Eurozone that doesn’t care if Britain stays or goes.
On the topic of austerity, the re-election of Tsipras as Prime Minister would enable the British Left to argue domestically that other countries in Europe were standing up to the oppressive capitalistic institutions that have ruined the lives of millions if people. The rejection of austerity by various government’s across the continent would give clout to the anti-austerity movement in Britain which, following Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, would be the most influential it has ever been. If Sinn Féin becomes part of the Irish government in the near future along with other anti-austerity groups gaining ground in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, the British Left would have a number of colleagues throughout Europe calling for large-scale reform of the EU and to redefine the European Project as a concept.
Victory for SYRIZA would also promote a powerful message: unity is better than division. Since the First International of 1864-76 the Left has had an sanctimonious streak running through it that has resulted in groups splitting off from larger ones in the search for ideological purity; this has been seen in Greece as well with the Greek Communist Party refusing to join SYRIZA when it was founded as a party in 2012 as well as the most left-wing members of SYRIZA breaking away to form the radical group Popular Unity.
The message that the re-election of SYRIZA would send is that the unification of left-wing forces can bring about electoral success; if I were Greek I would vote for SYRIZA because I passionately believe that the Left should get out of the habit of pushing people away who don’t agree on certain policies but agree on larger issues like the intrinsic immorality of capitalism. Such a call for unity is important for the British Left because the Tories are a formidable political force; the media is overwhelmingly opposed to Labour and smaller political parties on the Left are emerging to outflank them, both of which is a recipe for another Conservative victory in 2020. Jeremy Corbyn is right to try and transform the Labour Party into a political movement because if the continued fragmentation of the Left continues Thatcherite neo-liberalism will remain unchallenged for the foreseeable future.
For the British Left it is vital that Greece re-elects SYRIZA to prove that an anti-austerity message can resonate and be electorally successful, and it would also put David Cameron in an interesting position. Cameron, due to his brilliance in alienating Britain from the rest of Europe which has been made worse by the refugee crisis, needs others in Europe to stand up for reform because on his own he will be met with intransigence from European leaders. Also the New Democracy Party, the only other likely winner in the election, supports European federalism which would put the British Conservative government in direct opposition to the centre-right government of Greece.
If Tsipras wins and Greece get some concessions, it would probably encourage the Left to vote with a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party to remain part of the European Union, and Cameron may have to rely on the Hard Left backing him to keep Britain in the EU. Conversely, the re-election of Tsipras would only bolster anti-austerity forces in Britain thus leaving the Conservative Party open to defeat to a left-wing Labour Party in 2020.
By saying he would always vote to keep Britain in the EU whilst systemically being awkward with people who else would have agreed with him, he has put himself into a quagmire where he simultaneously needs SYRIZA to be re-elected to prevent arguments supporting the increasing centralisation of the EU, as well as needing SYRIZA to lose so that the anti-austerity movement in Britain and Europe more broadly isn’t bolstered. It is this political outcome, irrespective of the election result, that means that the political situation in Greece matters in Britain.