Skip to content

The Pantomime of the Greek Deal

July 10, 2015

A bad deal is what Greece wanted. A bad deal is what Greece got. Tsipras neither saved nor doomed the country.

image

This is my initial reaction to the deal proposal by Greece: it is more austerity -harsh austerity at that – and many of the measures are recessionary. Distribution of the burden seems to me fairer than before. If the upside is access to a significant stimulus package (front-loaded), a smoothing of the measures (back-loaded) and substantial restructuring of debt, to make it definitively viable, it will probably be seen as worth it. It is certainly capable of being sold as worth it.
Essentially, everyone managing to keep their position/perks/income in the context of an economy which is in the middle of a death spiral, is meaningless. If the economy begins to recover, then things which were unbearable, become bearable. Austerity becomes a background noise, rather than a preoccupation and a progressive government will be able to offset the damage. It is a delicate balance.
Market confidence is a strange creature. There is a lot of money sloshing around at the moment, taken out of China which is in free-fall. Money which is bulging to be invested. All it takes is an intangible notion that Greece has hit the low point, for investment to return. Whether this package achieves that balance or not, will have to be assessed over time, as the detail of each measure becomes known and away from the adrenaline and hysteria of negotiation fever.
Instant, dramatic, pantomime reactions of the type “Tsipras just destroyed Greece” and “Tsipras just saved Europe” are numerous and deeply unhelpful. He has done neither. This isn’t a booing or cheering moment…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so.

________________________

WHATEVER THE RESULT, “OXI” HAS WON

July 6, 2015

Like the independence referendum in Scotland, Greece has entered a process which is unstoppable

alexandreou_WzAVoBD

OXI, the “no” to the unconditional surrender demanded of Greece, has already won. We just don’t know how big the victory is yet. It may seem a bold prediction, but I’m not talking about the result of today’s referendum, monumental though that is, but about something much more profound.

All week the parallels between the Scottish referendum on Independence last year and what is happening in Greece, have been unavoidable. The fearmongering and predictions of doom have been hundred-fold, of course, and the situation much more extreme, but the way in which the representatives of the corrupt status quo have lined up, one by one, behind the “yes” camp, the way in which they have chosen to frighten, rather than convince, has been unmistakeable.

In June 2011, in my very first piece about the Greek crisis, I wrote about the occupation of Syntagma Square. I wrote that what was happening there was beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. About how the crowd of thousands shared what little food and drink there was. About a microphone which stood in the middle, through which anyone could speak and make proposals, which were then voted on by a show of hands. I talked about the beginnings of Citizenship and predicted that hope for Greece existed within that movement.

Four years later, Alexis Tsipras, the man who emerged as a leader from that movement, stood in the same square in front of a million people, this time as Prime Minister, and made a speech filled with both generosity and defiance. He stood alone, with no security, no fear, nothing between him and the crowd, other than a white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar. “Democracy is life”, he said. “Democracy is strength and joy.” The crowd…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so. 

WHERE IS MY EUROPEAN UNION?

June 30, 2015
As Greece prepares for a monumental decision, there is only one certainty: the European Ideal has been irrevocably damaged.

Woman-begging-in-Kos-Greece620

I am a Europhile. Not only that, I am a product of the Union. I have structured my life around the idea of free movement; my identity around the notion that I can be more than one thing: Mykonian, Greek, Londoner, British, European. For the first time in my life, I am beginning to wonder, whether the European project is now simply too broken to be fixed.

Do not misunderstand me. I am passionate about the notion of a Europe of partners, united around principles of solidarity and trade. I just think we have taken wrong turns. So many and so wrong that I feel very uncertain as to whether we can ever find our way back.

I am not alone in feeling like this and it is not of consequence only with regard to Greece. I have had numerous messages in the last few days from pro-European friends here in Britain, telling me that the way the institutions have treated Greece, have convinced them to cross over to the “out” camp for the forthcoming UK referendum on European membership.

I am not in the deluded camp who think that national sovereignty is a magic bullet that will restore some nationalist utopia which only ever existed in our minds. Governments have been captured by corporate interests, so completely and at every level, that all EU exit changes is the field on which necessary battles must be fought. No flag provides protection from that, however tightly we wrap ourselves in it.

Neither do I want to suggest that the project hasn’t been a success. Before it was captured by this fatal monetarist fever, it achieved decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, extraordinary advances in working and consumer rights, and a mingling of cultures and populations which has enriched us all. But I know, in my heart, it is now irrevocably damaged.

The choice being presented to the Greek people is a difficult one. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, as they say. On one hand, continuing a programme which has decimated the country and its economy, plunged millions into poverty…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so. 

Why the battle between Athens and Brussels matters to all of you

June 4, 2015
20150604-173141.jpg

Athens is a war zone. (AFP Photo / Louisa Gouliamaki)

There is a lot being written about the current negotiations between the Syriza government in Greece and the EU/IMF. The distance of most journalists from the Greek reality and atmosphere and the sheer volume of competing information, makes for a lot of white noise. I want to filter much of it out and boil the issues down to some very basic points. This is by no means a definitive list, but it is one which I think captures a number of “big ticket items” which I have not seen made clearly and explicitly.

1. The crisis is not an economic, but a political one. In the grand scheme of things, the sums which are the totality of the difference between the government’s proposal and the EU/IMF’s counterproposals are tiny and risible. Stripped of their political significance, they would not even show up as a blip on the European, let alone the global economic radar. A solution has not been achieved, because the EU/IMF are defending austerity in general. To concede, would be to accept they got it wrong.

2. The measures being counter-proposed by the EU are undeliverable and punitive. One only has to look at the proposals on VAT to realise that the EU is either clueless or not interested in a deal. Proposed VAT rates of 11% on staple food and 23% on electricity/water are not only regressive and unaffordable, but would plunge Greece into an inflationary death spiral, discouraging tourism, encouraging illegal trade and costing many times more than they raise in lost revenue. The proposal to scrap the relief to islands shows a lack of understanding of basic economic realities regarding the cost of shipping goods to thousands of small, remote islands. It is blindly trying to apply German policies. The proposals are not economically realistic; they are a punishment beating for having elected the “wrong” government.

3. The entrenched position of the players has to do with domestic rather than international policies. The battle between Merkel and Schäuble behind the scenes for leadership of their party before the next German election; the threat Rajoy faces in Spain from Podemos, underlined by recent municipal results; resistance to Dijsselbloem’s programme of ultra-right-wing economic policies in the Netherlands within his own Labour Party; the failure of Renzi to stimulate a stagnating Italian economy; – all these factors, and many besides, play a much bigger part in shaping players’ position towards the Greek crisis, than anything to do with the Greek crisis.

4. A fundamental misjudgment of Syriza in general and Tsipras in particular. There was a catastrophically widely held belief among the European establishment that, once elected, Tsipras would “play ball”. There is still palpable shock at his sticking to his election commitments, often expressed as the accusation that he is being unreasonable. Every statement out of EU institutions for the last five months has been practically underlined by the subtext “shit, he wasn’t bluffing”.

5. A Grexit would be disastrous for the EU. Tsipras understands this. Given current geopolitical circumstances, Putin’s expansionism, the powder keg that is North Africa, the Middle East on the brink of all-out war – strategically, Europe could afford to lose practically any single country from the Union, except Greece. Greece is the geographic and military key to all those conflict zones. Greece slipping by default into a China/Russia alliance would be nothing short of a global game-changer.

6. There was an underestimation of popular support for Syriza and misunderstanding of the mood in Greece. The EU/IMF clearly expected support for the new government to ebb away, as fruitless negotiations protracted. The opposite has happened. Support is significantly higher now than in the January election. Tsipras’s personal ratings are sky high. After living on the brink of disaster for so many years, I sense a que-sera-sera attitude in most people. This is not to say they don’t fear capital controls, the threat of Grexit, austerity, hunger, poverty and degradation. It is to say that they have lived with them for so long, they have become an ordinary part of the landscape.

7. Greeks are busiest in the summer. Everyone is busiest during the summer months. Everyone is richer during the summer months. It was a fundamental miscalculation by the EU/IMF to try and win a PR battle of fear during this period. The country is too light, too warm, too beautiful and too busy to take notice.

_______

CONCLUSION: The EU/IMF have played their hand badly. By calling a bluff that wasn’t a bluff they have played themselves into a situation in which they have no win scenario and no exit strategy. They will lose. The only question now is whether they lose badly or not and whether they take Greece down with them.

If this intransigence is played out, they force Greece into a new election, possible Grexit, instability, and plunge the entire continent back into recession. If they back down, Greece is seen as victorious, Podemos wins in Spain and they start the same negotiations with Iglecias, only the sums involved are larger and a resistance front in Southern Europe pushing back against imposed market liberalisation and austerity becomes a serious challenge.

They have, I think, realised this, but are still locked in a self-destructive raising of the stakes. Merkel and Hollande have noted this, which is why they have taken charge of negotiations increasingly away from the Eurogroup.

The reason this matters to all is twofold. First, it forces out into the open and brings into sharp contrast the increasing divergence between the wellbeing of markets and the wellbeing of populations. Second, it marks a clear act of economic blackmail by a global de facto establishment – let’s call it “The Davos Set” – unhappy at a democratic people opting for an alternative to neoliberalism.

How these tensions resolve themselves will determine whether national elections remain meaningful in any way; whether democratic change is possible or violent revolution is in fact the only effective option.

_______

I think Labour may be over

May 22, 2015

20150522-093706.jpg

I don’t say this lightly. It seems to me that Labour is about to make such a fundamental strategic flaw, it will make itself irrelevant for the next election, the one after that and, possibly, forever. I have seen this in Greece with PaSoK.

Simply put, Blair’s strategy would not be successful today. Attempting to emulate it will be disastrous. Blair worked from a completely different voting base: he knew he “had” most of the North, Wales, Scotland and a strong base of working class votes everywhere else. All he needed was a little help from the Home Counties; a little push from floating/undecided voters in the centre.

Labour today does not have most of that base any more. Its vote is under serious threat in all those areas. It is largely seen as having betrayed working people and this is being exploited by UKIP, SNP, even the Conservatives. It needs to, first and foremost, fight to secure that base again. Nobody at a strategy level appears to get that. They think that, just like Blair, they can leave their homestead entirely undefended and forage for votes on the centre-right.

If we’re lucky, a new entity – possibly a coalition of progressives a la Syriza – will challenge from the left. And I say “if we’re lucky” meaning everyone, wherever they are on the political spectrum. The political landscape needs balance. Enlightened voters, wherever they sit politically, instinctively understand that a strong centre-left, keeps the centre-right honest and vice versa. If we’re less lucky, a party like UKIP will continue to shift in a populist direction and become the party of opposition.

______________________________

Stuff your hypotheticals. The discrimination I experience is real.

May 21, 2015

20150521-122349.jpg

It’s amazing how discrimination always becomes hypothetical to people who, on the whole, haven’t experienced it. Rich, straight, white guys telling the world their future notional freedom has been somehow curtailed by a decision against a baker in County Antrim.

These have all been posed to me today:

“Suppose someone walked into my bakery and asked for a cake with the message ‘legalise slavery’ on it.”

“What if I were a baker and someone asked me to ice a cake with a pro-life message?”

“What if I were a Jewish baker, asked to write a neonazi message?”

“A Christian walks into a Muslim sign writer’s shop and orders a placard. He says it should carry a cartoon of the prophet and the slogan Muslims Go Home.”

Only none of those things happened. Here is what did happen: a gay guy walked into a bakery – a bakery not a church – and asked for a cake with a message on it, something this bakery did for hundreds of people every year. He was told to take his business elsewhere, because the owner found gay marriage offensive. As clear a case of discrimination as you are likely to see.

The judge has not mandated that the baker find gay marriage any less offensive, of course. The court has not injuncted the baker to make the cake. It has just fined him for discriminating against his customers. That’s all. His “moral objection” will cost him £500, because it was found to be discriminatory and, so, unlawful. If a neonazi sues a Jewish bakery any time soon, a judge can deal with that situation sensibly, just like a judge dealt with this one.

“Actually, same sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland, so the law supports the baker’s position”, said one genius to me. Only the baker wasn’t asked to marry a man. He was asked to ice a cake. Even in Northern Ireland, that is still legal.

Apparently acting against this kind of behaviour, which gay people experience on a regular basis, is aggressively pursuing some kind of homosexual agenda. We are supposed to just brush it off, just go to another bakery and not cause a fuss. And why? Because to act against this bigotry, might prejudice a bunch of fictitious people facing situations which you made up.

And to compound it all, you pursue these arguments by suggesting some sort of moral equivalence between being gay and being a fan of slavery, an islamophobe, a pro-lifer or a neonazi. Which is not that far away, frankly, from people arguing against marriage equality with “What is next? Brothers marrying sisters? Men marrying dogs?”

So, no, I’m not going to another bakery. You advertised a service. I employed you to provide it, not to edit my life. Your beliefs do not entitle you to some sort of Magical Christian Immunity from the law. Do your fucking job.

Five Years from The Next Election

May 17, 2015

20150517-140017.jpg

Many on the left seem engaged in head-up-bottom introspection and election predictions, two-hundred-and-sixty-eight weeks (probably) from the next election. They are the same people who couldn’t predict the last election five minutes before the polls closed. Now, they speak with absolute certainty about the next one, which is five years away. The lessons are there for whomever cares to learn them.

Within a similar timeframe in Greece: the leading left-of-centre PaSoK had collapsed from 45% of the vote to 4.5% of the vote; a new radical party was governing in coalition with the equivalent of UKIP; oh yes; and the nastier, Greek version of the BNP had come third.

Elections turn on events and events are notoriously unpredictable.

Who could have predicted “Sleaze” creating a perfect storm with “Back to Basics” in the early 90s? Or the MPs expenses scandal within months of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-09? There are events that no government can live down. There are wounds inflicted which are fatal, whether instantly or over time. All it takes is a nexus of unforeseen events and an opposition shrewd enough to capitalise on it.

Strangely, I think the former condition was present during the last administration, but not the latter. Cameron was hugely vulnerable after he lost the vote on Syria. His backbenchers were itching for a fight. The “Omnishambles Budget” was a thread hanging off a very delicate coalition fabric, just begging for someone to keep tugging. Nobody did with any conviction. Osborne’s job was on the line that month. 20% more pressure and the LibDems would have joined calls for his head.

These things could and should have been kept fresh in people’s minds. An inescapable narrative of incompetence begged to be constructed. Every time the Conservatives claimed competence in security, the public should have been reminded of a PM who refused to return from holiday, then recalled the House and presented a half-baked Syria motion, which he lost. Every time they claimed economic competence, a reminder of the “Omnishambles” budget should have been the response. By the time we got to the election, the Coalition would have been the brunt of limericks and the punchline of jokes.

Instead, having done little of this groundwork, Labour got involved in a circle-wank with headstones and coffee mugs. This is because for over four years it had been an introspective party, behind the curve of events, concerned over whether it had chosen the right leader, winning the occasional battle, but unable to sustain a strategy for winning the war. Everything was aimed at convincing itself of its own credentials, instead of convincing the country.

Battles are not won or lost only in the four weeks of a campaign. They are won and lost in the years that precede them. Anyone can play a check-mate, provided they are handed a chess board in which a check-mate is one move away. The skill is in getting in that position. Opportunities will present themselves for either side, because they always do; because politics is shaped by the fickle nature of events. The biggest of these opportunities may materialise in four years or tomorrow. All the governing party can do is be as unified, professional and effective as possible; ready to play a killer move. All the opposition has to do is exactly the same. The best strategy will win.

Every moment that is devoted exclusively to introspection is lost from effective opposition. The two activities can and must go hand-in-hand. There isn’t “plenty of time”. Opposition is Labour’s key constitutional role. Once the moment is gone, it is impossible to recover. The stakes are high: the future of the NHS and the BBC, the integrity of our civil rights, our membership of the European Union. If these bedrocks are allowed to be eroded unopposed, the public will never forgive Labour. I will never forgive Labour.

____________________________

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,323 other followers