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Greece proves left wing parties don't have a chance of delivering in power

They’re good at protesting and making noise, but they have no workable policies.

Aaron McKenna

SYRIZA IS THE hardest of hard left parties, the “Coalition of the Radical Left” to give it its unabbreviated title. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, entered politics via the Communist Youth of Greece; and top finance man, Yanis Varoufakis, is a self-described “liberal Marxist”. The party has coalition parts with titles ranging from “Anticapitalist Political Group” (snappier in Greek) to “Communist Organisation of Greece”, “Internationalist Workers Left” and “New Fighter.”

It is this pedigree that moved Paul Murphy, Socialist Party TD and Anti Austerity Alliance campaigner, to visit Greece for their election win celebrations. Murphy commented in a statement on Syriza’s victory that “the election of a Left government in Europe is an historic moment that opens up new opportunities”.

Tsipras spoke with Gerry Adams on the phone and then took the time to name check Sinn Féin in his victory speech, saying that they would carry forth the “new era” of left in the ascendency by sweeping to victory in next year’s election. Sinn Féin, like many left wing parties around Europe, took the time to heartily congratulate Syriza on their victory. The hard left had finally got some true believers into power.

Promises, promises 

Syriza won the Greek election on the back of promises quite familiar to followers of parties like Sinn Féin or the Socialist/AAA groupings. The party promised to stand up to the Troika, which bailed the country out, and send them packing. Syriza promised not only to halve austerity, but to introduce increases in welfare and the minimum wage. The party has said that it will first halt and then reverse the privatisation of state companies.

Immediately following their entry to high office, the new Marxist finance minister went on a tour of European capitals to propose favourable debt deals for Greece. The Greeks would propose no new bailout, the expulsion of the Troika and abandoning of all commitments made in the bailout programme. Instead the Greeks would move to “growth linked” bonds to fund the national debt.

European countries would lend the Greeks money, and the Greeks would pay interest depending on whether or not the economy grew. Of course if the economy didn’t grow because government policy screwed it up, not an unimaginable scenario in Greece, the Europeans would be on the hook to lend even more and receive no interest payments for it. This from a country that already enjoys borrowing costs closer to Germany’s than their own eye watering near-10% rates demanded for Greek debt on the open market.

We hear the same message from Ireland’s left wing parties

We are used to hearing all of this sort of a message from the left in Ireland. If only we got tough on the Europeans and grabbed them by the lapels in some heavy negotiations, we’d get a much better deal. We could scrap Irish Water, the property tax, high income taxes and all while expanding public spending programmes. We’d write off our debts, regardless of the fact that most Irish government borrowing is related to day-to-day spending rather than banking debt, and get the Europeans to “pay their share”, which will be precisely however much we want it to be.

Twenty-nine days is precisely how long it took the hard left vanguard in Greece to fail in this strategy and capitulate to reality. It was 29 days from the day Syriza took office till they turned around and accepted a four month bailout extension, agreed to continue with privatisation programmes and stick to financial targets set out by prior governments.

These hard-line communists and Marxists didn’t capitulate because the capitalist lizards who run the world economy zapped them with their brain rays in a meeting of the Eurogroup. They’ve performed a complete retreat because they were sat down and had to look at their policies – not from the comfortable chairs in opposition, but from the reality of government.

Had the Greek government proceeded and been refused their entirely one-sided proposal to allow them continue to spend whatever money they wanted at expense to European taxpayers, then Greece would have faced catastrophe. Forced ejection from the eurozone and even further economic ruin for their basket case of a country would have been the simple result. Communists know better than most what a collapsing economy looks like.

What next?

You can blame the Troika – now renamed “the institutions” in Greece’s sole victory in this whole affair – and hard-nosed Europeans for rejecting Syriza’s plan. I suspect if you were living in a country that is a net contributor to this sort of a no-strings-attached bailout, you’d be quite happy with the hard-nosed attitude. The proposals made by Syriza were simply mad, pie-in-the-sky stuff that would never have worked.

Now the question remaining for voters in Ireland and Spain and other countries is, what next? The hard-line stances of the Pearse Dohertys and Paul Murphys of this world, we now know from direct experience, will go nowhere. Their talk of throwing off the shackles of our debt, like it’s just as easy as walking into a Eurogroup meeting and declaring our intention, is clearly nonsense. Their policy proposals are madcap stuff we know won’t work.

We’ll cut and abolish taxes, they tell us; cull our debts and increase spending dramatically. The rich, we’re told, will pay for it all; just the same way as François Hollande swept into power with promises of nebulous wealth taxes that ultimately went nowhere.

Protesting and making noise is not the same as leading

The left is an empty vessel. They’re good at protesting and making noise, and being against this and that. But they have no workable policies and now we see directly from Greece that you can put the most virulent communists into power and they’ll get you nowhere once they start to try to defy the laws of gravity.

Ireland has the fastest growing economy in Europe. The government is unpopular and so are new taxes like the water charge, but where Greece is facing more decline we’re on the way up and out. We’ve got debt deals and done bank restructurings that have written down the real cost to Irish taxpayers of interest payments. We’re paying extortionate amounts, and we should never have been foisted with much of the banking debt we do have, but so too we’ve borrowed a lot to just keep the nurses and teachers paid and welfare flowing. We’re limping, but recovering.

Our recovery could be wrecked

In a sense that might make the election of the far left in Ireland a more worrying prospect than in Greece. There, the forces of reality stayed the hand of the communists when they got to power. In Ireland, our recovery could be wrecked by seeing some madcap alliance of Sinn Féin, Socialists and left wing independents getting a hold of an economy that’s just about picking itself up off the floor.

The flight of capital when Syriza came to power, some €20 billion in all, will damage Greece considerably. In Ireland, a similar run on capital and caution from overseas investors at what kind of mad policies we’d get would severely dent our capacity for recovery.

We’ve seen how quickly the hard left fails when it gets into power. It’s probably best if we don’t flirt with letting them and their snake oil solutions take power here.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

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