Greece and France reject austerity? Are elections ever that simple…

“the left should take care before attributing to any set of numbers a solid and coherent intent. Electoral politics is never that simple.”

by Joseph Markus

The intermittent bouts of democracy signified by Presidential and other elections have, over the past week, triumphed over the anti-democratic technocracy lodged in the ‘Merkozy’ pact and the conditionality sold to unwilling states by the EU-ECB-IMF troika as the solution to the Euro crisis.

The Greek and French majorities that, in formal terms, remained silent for the long spells of four, five or more years between elections can finally, and really rather obviously, be said to oppose austerity.

We are now likely to see the creation of a leftist Government in Greece—sewn together, in the form of Syriza, from the various far-left forces within the Greek political system—as well as seeing the socialist candidate, Hollande, succeed against Sarkozy in France. This coming immediately after the UK ‘mid-terms’, which many have read to signal widespread public disaffection—at least among those voting—with the ruling Conservative ‘austeriticians’, could be understood to finally enunciate what should have already been clear from protests, marches and strikes over the past few years: that we don’t want austerity.

Nevertheless this moment of clarity is the subject of suspicion. Suspicions that Hollande is a ‘danger’, for instance, were fanned by the European markets opening down, a phenomenon that has been repeated as a reaction to the fiscally-inflammatory rhetoric emanating from Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza. Absent from that analysis is that, whether or not these results do present danger, they flow from democratic elections. Putting aside for a moment otherwise interesting and apparently intractable questions about which of fiscally consolidating, or growing, our way out of debt is the better response, the point here is that the French and Greek people have chosen the latter.

At least, that is one interpretation of the results. The inherent difficulty in determining what an election means—and this is part of the reason why we have manifestos—is that people vote for a panoply of potential reasons and not all of them align with the after-the-fact rationalisations of commentators and politicians.

Many on the left have been suggesting that the elections, taking place throughout Europe—in Germany and Italy as well as France and Greece—can mean only one thing: the wholesale rejection of austerity.

That reaction must be tempered with the other side of the story, and perhaps an equally valid interpretation of voter intent. Perhaps the voters simply dislike tax rises – could that be it, as Tim Montgomerie at ConHome suggests?

Comment threads, above and below the line, have been dissecting voter intentions for the past week now. One theme that has emerged strongly is that the Greek public are reported to be strongly in favour of remaining within the Eurozone but, at the same time, are increasingly supporting the one action that is likely to tip Greece out of it.

On the face of it, this represents a clash. It also nicely frames the difficulty of relying on polling information and electoral results to seek to push forward policy. So while I oppose austerity and believe that the return of the left to government across Europe can only represent a positive change, the left should take care before attributing to any set of numbers a solid and coherent intent. Electoral politics is never that simple.

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