Labour Leadership – Still Waiting.

The following was a response on a closed facebook page to the question of what Labour can offer if we do not go down the Jeremy Corbyn so-called ‘anti-austerity’ route. (In fact the question was: “so what would you do – give up?”) It is a summary of where I stand.

Nearby, I suggested to another comrade that although I am not going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn (for a number of reasons, but mainly his policies and his friends) I am waiting for one of the other three candidates to inspire me. And that I have now been waiting for that for quite a while. She confessed to being in the same boat.

The debate is whether the politics of today allow us to do what we all want: expand the economy and redistribute the benefits of growth. There are a number of difficulties with doing so.

The first is that we did that for a decade, and failed to capitalise politically on having done so. The result is that the voters remember the downside of our economic record, and not the upside in investment in public services and the growth of individual incomes. Indeed, many Labour *members* – and some on this page – refuse to recognise the achievements of the Blair and Brown years.

Another problem is that the Tories have achieved better growth than most comparable economies – mainly by not being in the Eurozone, but they do have credibility where as we do not. Another is that the world economy is currently pretty rocky and is only going to get worse (esp see China). Do we think that makes voters more or less likely to take risks with the national finances? A Fabian pamphlet a couple of years ago pointed out that in past depressions, voters turn to the Tories.

Which is not to be defeatist, rather to say that our aims (if they are to endorsed by the voters) should be specific and justifiable within the framework of debt and deficit reduction. This poses three challenges.

  • The first is that we must set our immediate steps within an inspirational framework of values and ambitions.
  • The second is to look to ways in which better public services can be brought about without massive extra spending commitments. It is here that the new economy of co-operatives, mutuals, community businesses can be expanded.
  • The third – and most difficult – challenge is to say that if we cannot expand the cake as quickly or as much as we want, then we must redistribute it more fairly.

In this way, what I am setting out is more radical than tax/spend or borrow/spend. It is using politics for the redistribution of wealth and power: and not giving up at all.

Not ever.

Herald letter – Clapping In the Commons (No £)

WHEN Stalin visited the Bolshoi Theatre, the assembled comrades in the audience would rise to their feet and literally applaud for their lives: during the Terror, no-one dared to be first to be seen stopping their ovation. Such displays would go on for a very long time indeed.

It is easy to see the risk that applause in the House of Commons could become excessive in a similar way, although prompted by the raw ambition and abject sycophancy of MPs rather than mortal fear. Press reports will certainly record the number, duration and volume of ostentatious demonstrations of acclaim, as is already the case at party conferences and in the United States Congress. This would no doubt also contribute to some very tedious ovation inflation.

It is probably better that we keep the convention of restricting routine approval in the Commons to “hear, hears” and the waving of Order Papers. Like many elements of the UK and our constitution, it may be a bit eccentric, but while it works, there is no need to fix it when the alternatives are worse.

Peter A Russell,

The Power of OXI.

0607 oslo greece italy NYC 040

I feel a bit forced to write this as no commentator has, to my knowledge, done so. But I feel that it sheds some light on the outcome of the Greek referendum, on the question asked, and possibly the way forward from here.

What has not been set out is the meaning of voting Oxi in that referendum, and to know that, a little knowledge of the history is required.

In April 1939, the Italians occupied Albania, and began a campaign of harassment on the disputed border between North Epirus (Albanian) and South Epirus (Greek.) When war broke out in September, Mussolini attempted to provoke Greece into abandoning its neutral position. First, he had the Greek warship Elli torpedoed in harbour at Tinos, and when this was unsuccessful, he accused the Greeks of violating the Albanian border in Epirus.

On 28th October, 1939, the Greek dictator Metaxas received an ultimatum from Mussolini: to allow Italian troops access to unspecified strategic sites in Greek Epirus or face war. Metaxas replied in diplomatic French: “Alors, c’est la guerre” (“…so, it is war then”).

However, the apocryphal version was that he simply replied in one short word: “Oxi.” And so the power of Oxi was born.

After an heroic mountain warfare campaign in the winter of 1939-40, and continuing resistance the following year, Greece finally fell under the occupation of the Italian-German-Bulgarian Axis in the early summer of 1941. Like every other country and territory that suffered that occupation, Greece endured humiliation, genocide (of its Jews in the greatest Sephardic city in the world, Thessalonica), starvation and destruction.

However, the diaspora throughout the world remembered Metaxas and his defiant Oxi, and made a point of celebrating 28th October as a day of Greek pride and defiance each year. With the defeat of fascism and the end of the occupation, and even through the Civil War that followed, Oxi Day became the national holiday of resistance that it remains today.

Oxi has for that reason acquired a national status that is almost talismanic, and possibly beyond the understanding of most outsiders. The nearest equivalent in the UK is the Ulster Orangemen’s attachment to ‘No Surrender!’

So when commentators point out that the referendum question of 5th July was nonsensical, they may have missed the point. It is true (as they say) that the question was both incomprehensible (half Greek, half English, over-complex) and irrelevant (the proposal to which it referred had already expired), and that the notice and campaign time was hopelessly short (a few days rather than the weeks of months usually allowed). However, the question set by Alex Tsipras and Syriza did offer the Greek people the chance to relive a historical highlight when their ancestors said no to fascism and to the threat outside domination.

For the result of the referendum, this may have had two impacts.

First, it made it far more likely that Oxi would succeed than either political commentators or opinion pollsters anticipated.

Secondly, even many of those who might have voted Yes on less emotional grounds may have felt unable to vote against Oxi, and would have therefore stayed at home. This might account for the surprisingly low turnout (62.5% – in contrast to Scotland’s 84.6% in September 2014.)

As the week since the referendum has proceeded, it has also become clear that the Oxi vote did not strengthen the hand of the Syriza government in dealing with its creditors and Eurozone governments and EU institutions. So it may appear to the outsider to have been pointless. However, in the light of the above history and the power of Oxi, the referendum may have had a different historical purpose.

Quite simply, it gave the Greek people the chance to say No, meaning a chance to stand up and a chance to be proud of themselves as a people and as a country. And in doing so, it might just have made the continuing  austerity measures (which were inevitable whatever the outcome) just that bit more bearable.

Herald letter (first since election) Scotland & Greece – no £wall.

IT is no surprise that Scottish nationalists wish to appropriate to themselves the outcome of the Greek referendum (Letters, July 7). However, the reality is that the closest relationship between the two is that in each case the outcome was that the popular will of the people defeated a proposition which would have led to economic ruin for the respective countries.

Your correspondents would have more of a point if Scotland had voted Yes and then – as would have been likely – fallen foul of the similar asymmetrical currency union foolishly recommended by the SNP. In that case, Scotland would also have been begging to be allowed to renege on agreements freely entered into previously.

In the case of Greece, it remains to be seen whether the alternative chosen will bring about a better outcome. This will depend on the ability of the other Eurozone governments to convince their parliaments that their electorates will understand the need to support the Greek economy. I hope they will be able to do so. (My own view is that Greece should leave the euro, and that the other Eurozone countries and institutions should invest in an orderly and well-resourced “soft landing'”exit.)

At the same time, it is an odd feature of coverage of the Greek referendum that no-one has noted the talismanic quality of the word Oxi. It was the apocryphal answer of the Greek dictator Metaxas to Mussolini at the outbreak of the Second World War, and is celebrated as a national holiday (Oxi Day) on every November 28, and is therefore a national symbol of patriotic resistance. The referendum was like asking Scots to vote on whether Scotland is “the Brave”, and whether we should have fought Hitler, rolled into one.

Peter A Russell