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Tsipras Triumphs Over Infantile Leftism and Conservative Economism

Why are 36, 60 and 80 key figures to keep in mind when analyzing the Greek situation?

Greek Prime Minister Alexei Tsipras (Credit: 360b - Shutterstock.com)

Takeaways


  • Without Tsipras’s charisma and drive, Syriza would still just be writing columns for the leftist press.
  • The Greeks have been crucified by international capital and corrupt, clientelist policies at home.
  • Tsipras always knew that it was Merkel who was going to make the final call.
  • Reformist politics -- not economics or infantile leftism -- has won.
  • Tsipras’ position is stronger today than when just 36% voted for him in January.
  • The EU proposals for Greece are reformist measures that were enacted in Nordic nations years ago.
  • Greece needs a smaller state, not one that gobbles up ever rising taxes.

36, 60, 80. Those are the key figures to keep in mind. Alexis Tsipras and Syriza got 36% of the vote in January. It was the same percentage that David Cameron won in May, and with little more than a third of a national poll.

(See TG’s recent coverage of Greece here)

The odd electoral systems in both Britain and Greece allowed the leftist Tsipras, from a wealthy privileged background, and the rightist Cameron, from a wealthy privileged background as well, to govern their countries without the support of the 64% of citizens who voted against them.

That’s politics. And politics has been rather ignored in the transformation of the Greek crisis into a giant morality play about wicked Teutons or sturdy truth-telling Germans. The Greeks have been crucified by international capital or utterly corrupt. Take your pick.

Tsipras is a politician, however. And like all clever politicians – think Willy Brandt, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton or Angela Merkel and many more — all he has ever done in his life, every day of his life, is politics, politics and politics.

His 36% vote made him a prisoner of his party and it resulted in a coalition with a nationalist, anti-semitic party. But, it also made his party a prisoner of Tsipras. Without him, his charisma and his drive, they would still be shouting in the streets or writing columns for the leftist press — instead of sitting in ministerial offices, in charge of doing rather than talking.

Why 60 matters

That is why the 60% who voted for his referendum matter. Syriza covered Greece with posters urging a vote to say “Yes” to Europe and “No” to austerity. It was a wonderful appeal. The first time any referendum in which voters could vote Yes-No, or No-Yes.

So they did. And with one move, Tsipras was free. Using his 60% referendum vote, he could go to the Greek Parliament and say it was time to go for reform, not leftist utopianism. The latter makes for great article copy, but has little to do with governing a modern state.

What about the 80?

Finally, Tsipras also speaks for the 80% of the Greeks who are very keen to stay in the euro. They flatly refuse the “wisdom” of ignoble Nobel Prize winners such as Paul Krugman.

His advice to the Greeks was that their problems would be over if they just reverted to the drachma, to devaluations. Essentially, he wanted them to accept their lot as a failed Balkan state — and to do so proudly.

Fighting for Greece to stay in the euro is also Tsipras’s trump card. In contrast, Yanis Varoufakis, who also lives in very privileged circumstances (just as Tsipras and Cameron), was willing to issue a parallel currency.

His apparent plan was to turn Greece into an impoverished communist state where the dollar or drachma ruled and the local currency was a joke. Some have called his vision “Venezuela minus the oil.”

Gifted politician that he is, Tsipras also instinctively understood that while the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble had to play hard cop, it was always going to be Merkel’s call. She was not going to bust Europe apart.

Reformist politics wins

The rest was mere show and tell time. The EU always involved a sharing of sovereignty. It is founded on it. Call this a loss of national sovereignty for Greece if you like. But that’s what Europe is – a post-national sovereignty project.

Tsipras has now crossed the Rubicon. He decided that holding office and keeping power is worth more than plaudits from a left wing in Greece that cannot sit in a pram for five minutes without throwing out its toys. Reformist politics — not economics or infantile leftism — has won.

In sum, Tsipras speaks for the 80% of Greeks who want to keep the euro and the 60% who supported his Yes-No referendum. His position is stronger today than when just 36% voted for him in January.

Contrary to the protests of Germany bashers, which is especially prominent in the UK and United States at the moment, many of the EU proposals for Greece are reformist, progressive measures that were enacted in Nordic nations, the Netherlands, or Germany years ago. Greece should have started implementing them long ago for its own sake – and nobody else’s.

Making up for lost time

If it had done so, it would not have become the problem that it now is for the rest of Europe. It would also not have had a tenth of the problems it now has to contend with if it had done so. But left to its own devices, various Greek leaderships have been an unmitigated disaster for the country.

Tsipras now has a chance to modernize his country. He will be called a traitor and sell-out merchant. That’s from people who have never played a real role in real politics.

If you don’t believe that, check what they said about Felipe Gonzalez or Willy Brandt or Olaf Palme when they chose reformist, not rejectionist politics.

It may all yet go wrong. And much of the conservative critique is justified. Greece needs a smaller state, not one that gobbles up ever rising taxes. But if Greece finally does reform, perhaps it will all have been worthwhile.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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