Political parties, ideology and the European ideal
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Apokoronas News 2014
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It was not until the end of the first week of March that the international crisis replaced the local elections as the first item in the news. The debate amongst politicians about who deserves the confidence of the people in the next elections continued unabated however in the morning to night current affair programmes that are interrupted only by TV chefs showing a new generation of Greeks how to cook using frozen pastry and processed meat. Cheap television in either case. The difference being that the cookery programmes lead to something, while politicians leave you with nothing to eat in the end. Elections Still, I cant complain as I did not have many opportunities to observe a fully fledged election campaign in this country. From the time I was old enough to be interested, to the time I left Greece there were no elections. And later, on my infrequent returns I concentrated more on my holiday rather than the incomprehensible rumblings of politicians that did not really affect me. The two national elections in 2012  which took place in rapid succession in the midst of a deepening crisis and fear of an impending economy meltdown were anything but normal for the Greek political reality. The were both fought by the main parties on the unchartered territory of a national salvation ticket which resulted in the present, confused coalition government, which is also another  first for Greek politics. A lot of euros have gone under the bridge since then and a lot of political statements about the economy reforms, a fair tax system, the abolition of bureaucracy and growth, none of which turned out to be true. As the local, regional and more importantly for the political classes, European elections approach, the effort of the governing parties concentrate on telling us once again how good things are going to be from now on. But just in case,  there are a number of new ‘political movements’ made up from old politicians who see their chance of being elected evaporate, named after trees, natural phenomena or numbers to contest the European  elections in a different guise. Their reasoning being  that they see an ideological void that needs, in their opinion, to be filled (no, nobody said pockets). And while the ideological void was discussed, a brand new party sprung up with the unlikely name of The River, made up from celebrities, academics and artists; the established politicians threw scorn and treated them  with contempt until the first polls gave them a respectable percentage of voter support. And that was even before its official launch. What is a political party? As far as I am concerned, the significance of The River is that it offered an insight into Greek politics from the politician’s point of view. After listening to a lot of commentary  on the subject, I feel  that I have managed to distil the essential features of the ideal proper political party. A party needs a leader who is a politician.  A mighty task normally falling to one of the  descendants of a political family. No work experience or public office success record necessary. The party is the number one priority and the leader is the party.  Leadership qualities, charisma and vision for the country are not required either, as  the party faithful will admire and blindly follow no mater what. Good family relations with at least one media network owner, a chief executive of a financial institution and a contractor are a definite advantage. A party needs an ideology. Ideology here is no more than a label that refers to a memory of long forgotten beliefs. It comes with handy sound bites that the faithful followers will
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learn by rote and will bleat endlessly from morning to night on television channels, radio stations and to anyone prepared to listen. This is in place of any policy or practical solutions and it can also be offered as a reply to questions about a party programme. Life goes on But while this very interesting debate about the social fabric of Greek politics goes on, the unsolved problems and the unanswered questions persist. Elected representatives continue to vote uncritically on legislation they have not seen, let alone debated in parliament, while the government is still deciding what to tax next. Emergency acts are going through with ministers responsible changing their mind and issuing amendments on a daily basis.  Thus in the last few weeks we had numerous changes in the tax regulations and a whole new range of half baked ideas of how to squeeze more money out of the tax paying public. The troika is negotiating hard and they will not back off. They insist on the reforms to be carried out this time for real or else… or else the primary surplus will not be there? “Why is it that you people can’t get on with some of these simple cost free changes that we have been going backwards and forwards for the last four years?” they would be justified to ask. “You have commissioned the OECD report paid a lot of cash for it so why don’t you implement it?” Well there are two answers to that question. The first from  people who, disregarding reality, claim that reforms are going on well. As far back as 2011, months after it received its first bailout, Greece attempted to remove restrictions on hundreds of closed professions, which were sheltered from competition by a web of quotas, licenses or other regulations. In May 2013, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said that 72% of Greece's 343 closed professions, ranging from notaries to taxi drivers, had been fully liberalized. The second is more honest: “We are in the beginning of an election campaign and we don’t want to upset anyone. You would not want those nasty anti Europeans to be elected to the European parliament – you don’t want the traditional party vote to collapse and have a general election do you?”  And no they don’t. They want the government in Greece to remain pro European.  The European ideal So here in European property-rich Greece, the pro European forces have achieved a number of truly European aims. Record unemployment with  1.3 million people out of work with only 10% getting any unemployment benefit. Two million households unable to service their debts to the state and the banks. One million households that cannot pay their electricity bills. Half of the businesses still in operation throughout the country in serious  arrears on  their contributions to employees’ pension and social security funds. No welfare net for those without insurance, the old and the infirm. A tax system that penalises the poor and encourages tax evasion. So no,  no change please. We do not want our European ideals of prosperity, human rights, justice and employment to be put at risk. 
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