images.jpgTom Carty urges Labour to draw inspiration from the anti-austerity victory in Greece

Could the election in Greece turn out to be an emperor's new clothes moment for austerity? It may be the product of despair, but the result represents real hope, and not just for the Greek people. While there were factors specific to Greece behind the disaster which overtook the country, throughout Europe austerity has become an idol and is doing immense damage. This repetition of the central error of the 1930s is the most shocking element of the present crisis. The degree to which the amnesia is wilful is debatable but the consequences are clear enough and are visited most savagely on the poor and disabled but also much more widely (think for example of the scale of youth unemployment in Greece or Spain). The evidence is that austerity has deepened and prolonged the crisis it was supposed to resolve.

The message from Greece is that there is an alternative to neoliberalism, the ideology which lies behind austerity. An alternative to the driving-down of earnings, the dismantling of workers' rights and job security, to the insistence that decent levels of welfare provision and health care are unaffordable, and any increased taxation of the rich simply unthinkable. We need to rediscover Keynes, and the role of the state. In fact, a proactive state is a precondition for protecting the poor, the sick, and the low paid, for ensuring the availability of affordable housing, and of training for young people with jobs afterwards.  Intervention and investment on the scale required cannot be left to the market. Neoliberals, even those with the best intentions, are philosophically incapable of taking the necessary steps.images_(1).jpg

Far from the anti-EU and anti-immigrant nationalism which characterises the right-wing parties of protest across Europe, such as UKIP, and despite its origin and formal identity on the far left, Syrize represents a variety of the same new populist, progressive politics as that articulated by the SNP during the independence referendum campaign. There is a warning for Labour in its success the collapse and near-wipe-out of the once mighty PASOK, the Greek Socialist Party, until recently one of the two parties alternating in power, but perceived as representing its own self-interest rather than the interests of its traditional supporters.

While it is understandable that conservative parties should exploit the opportunity to cut back on welfare (although the scale and virulence of the Tory attack on claimants and their ideologically-driven assault upon the state are truly shocking), it is dispiriting to see Labour and Social Democratic parties timidly accepting the need for austerity, and treading carefully so as not to alarm people who will never vote for them. We can only welcome the victory of Syrize and hope that it will embolden others to follow its lead. In the election campaign which has just begun, for example, wouldn't it be good if the Labour Party had the courage to speak the truth about austerity's nakedness? 

Tom Carty ( is the author of 'The Jesus Reader. The Teaching and Identity of Jesus Christ' (Columba Press, Dublin) 2013.


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