From Tsipras to Corbyn: reality bites back

Greeks have voted. Tsipras has won another election — but his sparkling popularity has waned. Meanwhile, Corbyn is already deeply mired in compromise. Are left wing radicals doomed to fail?

Yesterday Greece voted to keep him as their prime minister. Yet despite winning two elections, Alexis Tsipras has had a rough year.

‘Hope begins today,’ was the mantra that swept him and his left-wing party Syriza to a landslide victory back in January. Eight months later, after he resigned and called a snap election in August, his campaign message was very different: Greece must vote for a ‘fighting government’ which would ‘move on with necessary reforms,’ he said. After signing a bailout deal just days after the public rejected it in a referendum, Tsipras has left the anti-austerity line which first fuelled his popularity in tatters.

The mood was despondent yesterday as voters returned to the polls in far lower numbers than January. Syriza received the largest percentage of votes, but many attribute this to its new, more centrist, position.

‘Reality is brutal,’ said one former Syriza voter. ‘I hold no expectation from any politician’s promise this time around. It has all come down to bare-bones survival.’

Tsipras is famous for not wearing ties and for criticising the country’s corrupt ‘triangle of sin’. But even his ‘man of the people’ persona has suffered since he sent his son to a private school and took a luxury holiday at the villa of a wealthy shipowner.

It is a reversal of fortunes which is also being felt in Britain after Jeremy Corbyn’s tumultuous first week as the new Labour leader. The left-wing republican has been forced to admit that he ought to begin singing the national anthem and to promise that Labour will not campaign to leave the EU, despite his personal doubts.

But even with these compromises, some Labour MPs are already plotting his downfall. ‘He knows he’s not going to be prime minister,’ one shadow minister told the Sunday Times. ‘We’ve got to stop him doing so much damage that by the time we get the party back, he has wrecked it completely.’

Hope vs reality

Reality bites, say some observers. Corbyn has discovered just how difficult it is to lead a party, and Tsipras faces an even harder challenge in Greece. Leadership takes time, experience and a lot of compromise. These optimistic politicians were doomed the moment they promised the moon; they could never deliver it alone. As their heroes lose their shine, disappointed voters will begin to look for more experienced hands.

But this is a cynical view, say others. Corbyn’s election symbolised a wave of support for more idealistic, unconventional politicians in Europe and the US. The anti-establishment feeling is still there, but change won’t happen in a week. Corbyn and Tsipras just need the time and the confidence to get the public back on their side.

You Decide

  1. Can Jeremy Corbyn win the UK’s support?
  2. Is ‘hope’ the most powerful political force?

Activities

  1. Using The Day’s archives, draw a timeline of the Greek crisis since 2011.
  2. Write a letter to the former Syriza voter from the story, explaining why she should — or shouldn’t — trust politicians.

Some People Say...

“Without idealism, politics is empty.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this really change anything?
The result in Greece is unlikely to change all that much: when the country signed its latest bailout deal, it agreed to implement the tax rises and cuts to spending which Syriza had originally tried to oppose. If Greece wants to avoid going bankrupt and potentially leaving the euro, it has to follow through with those reforms. But the change in mood is more interesting, as it could be mirrored in other countries too, including the UK.
What happens then?
History proves time and again that politics are impossible to predict — we’d be fools to try. But there are a lot of significant votes coming up in the UK alone, including for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, the London Mayor, and the EU referendum. Labour plays an incredibly important role in all four.

Word Watch

Syriza
The political party is a Greek acronym for ‘Coalition of the radical left’. In January, it won with 36%, eight points ahead of its main opposition, the New Democracy party.
Triangle of sin
Greece’s banks, media and more traditional politicians.
Shipowner
Along with tourism, shipping is one of Greece’s most successful industries. It employs around 200,000 people. Both industries are rewarded with low taxes, one of the many economic policies which has received criticism during the Greek economic crisis.
Republican
In the UK, this refers to someone who believes that Britain should abolish its monarchy, thereby becoming a republic.
National anthem
Corbyn faced heavy criticism when he remained silent during God Save the Queen at a memorial service for the Battle of Britain last week.

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