As we move even closer to a double-dip recession, or even a possible 1930′s style depression, what is happening in Greece and to a lesser extent in Ireland should be a warning to British social democrats. Do you remember just a short time ago that Cameron, Osborne and the Tory press were laughing at Ed Balls for predicting just this possibility?
Let’s look at the Greeks. The political gymnastics of George Papandreou have been a wonder to behold. As head of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Labour’s sister party in Greece, he won an election in 2009 after the financial and economic crisis had already hit. This isn’t to say that PASOK is innocent of all charges relating to the economic crisis in Greece. Prior to 2004 it was the government and like other European social democrat parties including our own found it easy to follow the neo-liberal economic policies of the Reagan/Thatcher era. Charges of cronyism and sleaze abound from that period.
Having been elected as prime minister like his father and grandfather before him, he decided to protect the interests of the Greek and European bankers rather than the Greek citizens. Finding that the majority of Greeks disagreed with being the victims of the mistakes of bankers and politicians and many being prepared to take to the streets to show their displeasure, he needed to find a way of getting out of the firing line.
He first attempted to involve the opposition in a government of national unity to share the blame but they spurned him. His next idea was to have a referendum to allow the Greeks to vote on whether to accept the austerity measures. He didn’t do this in the expectation that the vote would go against him. He thought that he could blackmail Greeks into self-harm by threatening them with disaster if they moved away from the EU prescriptions.
Sarkozy and Merkel obviously had far less faith in getting the right result from a referendum than Papandreou and immediately went to work to stop Greeks being able to vote. They are now doing their best to unseat Papandreou and replace him with PASOK MPs more likely to be acceptable to the conservative opposition in a government of national unity. Evangelos Venizelos, the finance minister, seems the most likely to fill this position for at least the next few months while the austerity measures are implemented.
So how does this affect us you may ask? How much worse would the economic situation have to get in Britain before the Tory press starts to call for a national unity government? If this call did go out could we imagine any Labour dignitaries, leaders and MPs willing to join such a coalition? Of course we know some already have and I suspect it wouldn’t take that much to get the likes of Mandelson, Blears and others onboard. David Miliband would be big one. How much would it take to convince him?
And yet we should learn from history, and we probably have more party history than the Greeks. Any attempt to do a PASOK by helping the bankers destroy all that we fought for in citizens rights over many years would be a repeat of the treachery of Ramsay MacDonald. We should be vigilant against any attempt to hop into bed with the Tories. There are some in the party who would like to get their hands on power again no matter what the cost. To these people the history of the party means nothing. To them, as Alex Hilton said in a recent Labourlist post, all the party has is a brand name they would like to use. There are some in Greece who see the same in PASOK.