What can Labour learn from Syriza?
Syriza, the Greek leftist Party, is undoubtedly in my mind the new standard-bearer for the European left. Currently, it is polling in first-place in the run-up to the next set of Greek elections, likely to be held on June 17th. It has achieved this lofty position by doing something simple, something that the right-wing, especially the right-wing of the Labour Party has told us is impossible, sticking to its principles. So, the electoral fortunes of Syriza should be a subject of great interest to those on the left of Labour and also so should the path which has propelled it on this upward trajectory.
Starting from the top (literally in a manner of speaking), it is clear Syriza is a much more internally democratic Party than Labour is. Its structure, described as”non-hierachical” here, clearly reflects the fact that it is a coalition of diverse political parties, whose contending platforms often seem to be totally antithetical to each other. On the surface, this would seem to preclude an easy overlay onto our Labour Party because it has a more centralised structure and a different heritage. However, Labour can realistically be said to contain the potential for at least two, maybe three different parties and has always been and will always be a coalition of a slightly different but also startlingly similar type. Indeed, the Labour leadership itself is at least paying lip-service to the idea of being less a Party and more a movement. Labour will, however, always be more centralised and that is partially due to the electoral system (Greek has a proportional electoral system) which makes small splinters from Labour, either to the left or the right, unlikely to flourish and therefore consequentially they have dramatically less bargaining power.
Perhaps the main lesson of Syriza’s structure is as much for the left as Labour because Syriza is not, and does not aim to be, an ideologically pure sect, it embraces and even draws strength from its diversity. No doubt this has aided it in building the broad electoral coalition it looks to be in the process of cementing; anti-austerity is not just a ‘core vote’ message but a message that has broad, cross-class appeal, and this is a stinging rebuke for Labour’s right-wing which tries to paint the left as just focusing on Labour’s core constituency. Similarly, Syriza has resisted the allure of a popularist anti-European message, prefering instead to seek to persuade Europe of its case;
“Our first choice is to convince our European partners that, in their own interest, financing must not be stopped,” Tsipras said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday. “If we can’t convince them–because we don’t have the intention to take unilateral action–but if they proceed with unilateral action on their side, in other words they cut off our funding, then we will be forced to stop paying our creditors, to go to a suspension in payments to our creditors.”
Even its Eurosceptics talk in terms of a different, not divided, Europe.
Syriza, perhaps because it is diverse, has also made significant political capital out of appearing ‘clean’. It’s message is positive and empowering, rather than purely focused on a negative rejection of the austerity agenda. Given all these pluses, it is disappointing to read an article by Ed Miliband, that has nothing positive to say about Syriza, indeed, the only time he cites them, albeit indirectly, is when he bemoans the “Greek people turning away from the mainstream”. Syriza is putting the pride back into being left-wing again and that will probably be one of its most important historical legacies and, despite recent performances, Mr Miliband and indeed our Party has a long way to go to reach the heights they are surmounting.