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Could Labour be more like Syriza?


The big question is whether Labour can rise to the challenge, accept the enormity of the changes needed and put forward a compelling vision for the future. The alternative may well be "Pasokification".

For the first time since the financial crisis of 2007-8, there are now signs of an awakening of popular opposition from the left in Europe – the electoral success of Syriza in Greece and the rise of Podemos in Spain being the most obvious examples.


For very a long time, despite an epochal economic crisis, the left has looked weak. Across Europe, social democratic parties have become part of the establishment. They have accepted the idea that there is only one – neoliberal – way of running the economy: that economics is a technical matter, outside politics. The Greek social democrats of Pasok have now paid the price for their government’s support for neoliberal solutions to the financial crisis brought about by neoliberalism. Spain’s socialists may face a similar fate at the end of the year.


One of Syriza’s greatest achievements is that it has succeeded in showing that an alternative is possible; it has finally led to a real debate over austerity, and opened up economics as a subject for political - as opposed to technical - contestation. The economy has been re-politicised. It is no longer the exclusive preserve of technocratic elites: the possibility that there may be an alternative has been firmly put upon the table. Even within the halls of the establishment, there have been questionings - of a more minor order, but still significant. Mark Carney’s recent criticism of Eurozone austerity policies is just one example.


Compared with the upheavals elsewhere in Europe, the situation here has seemed somewhat tame. Like being marooned, away from the action.


Nonetheless, even here the situation is far from stable. The major political parties have been losing ground for some time, with serious challenges to the Westminster establishment coming from the nationalist movement in Scotland, UKIP and most recently the Green Party.


Amidst these various ‘surges’, is there any hope for Labour? Can the current Labour leadership reconnect with the desires of the majority of its membership and a substantial part of the electorate? Can they set out an election manifesto that clearly defines alternatives to the status quo?


The May election will take place in a period similar to that of the 1970s - when successive governments failed to manage economic and political crisis. This was the period when the old social democratic settlement was unravelling, and no establishment party could find a compelling alternative. First Heath and then Wilson and Callaghan failed to achieve a way out of the morass. We all now know what happened at the end of the decade: Thatcherism took over, and the era of neoliberalism - as we now understand it - began. Now could be a similar moment of change. Can Labour and the left rise to the challenge?

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