How to be [centre] right

This is the title –minus the centre– of a book (by British journalist James Delingpole) written in an A-Z form, about the calamities of UK New Labour governance. In the author’s own words, this book is for three types of readers: those who are properly, soundly rightwing; left wing but believe in Enlightenment principles of empiricism and liberty; have a sense of humour. It is not about whining, humourless, self-hating lefts who can’t accept the truth about the world.

The book is about the twelve-year experience of the Blair-Gordon governance and could act as a crash course about the future of the Greek government, as well as the main opposition ND party that is trying to find its way forward.

A similar study on Greece should skip the country’s socialist past. PASOK governments of the 80s and the 90s (although -for many- the key reason Greece is in a constant state of crisis ever since), are broadly considered ancient (political) history for most Greeks under the age of forty. It should also avoid any attempt to anticipate future developments as regards the SYRIZA governance. Instead, it should concentrate on the Centre-right party that is struggling to tackle some fundamental -some say identity- issues that relate to the core of the [centre] right side of the political spectrum.

Before addressing that, one should keep in mind that the Greek Centre-right has gone through some key moments that have been critical to its current state.

Since the 90s, the landmark moment for the Greek Centre-right revealed itself in March 2004 when Costas Karamanlis managed to mobilise wider groups of society and persuade voters as regards his determination to bring change, especially in the bewildered and diachronically problematic Greek public sector. His winning motto was the “re-founding of the state”, something that upon implementation would have required massive and radical changes in the state apparatus and public enterprises. Introducing meritocracy and transparency in ministries and state agencies would have a spillover effect to local entrepreneurship -used to live under the protective umbrella of the state- thus strengthening extrovert strategies and innovation.

Well, this never happened and when ND delivered government to G. Papandreou in Oct-2009, the total figure of public sector employees had increased, Eurostat officials had recorded a two-digit fiscal deficit, and the country was poorly equipped to enter the adventure of the international crisis.

This was nothing new for the Greeks, who are accustomed to their leaders failing them. However, the initial expectations Greeks had from the 5-year government of the Centre-right (formed in spring and summer period of 2004) were unprecedented and the stakes were particularly high. The short (some say ill-advised) governance tenure of G. Papandreou absorbed some of the blame for the Greek crisis, but those who knew their way around macroeconomic figures, when referring to structural dimensions of Greece’s predicament had still the nephew of ND’s founder in mind.

Following the dogma “silence is golden”, C. Karamanlis remained silent until developments forced him to speak out two days before July’s referendum. Upon Karamanlis’ withdrawn from active duty in 2009, Antonis Samaras assumed the leadership of New Democracy after a leadership challenge with Dora Bakoyannis. In a positive twist for Karamanlis, the new leader’s bourgeois upbringing and right-wing conscience, made sure the legacy of the former leader would be protected; he moved forward, attempting to built its own presence in the MoU-ruled country.

Antonis Samaras’ leadership followed a roller coaster, mainly due to three reasons: first, the strategic u-turn from anti- to pro-MoU rhetoric, second, the lack of any form of organised and effective communication with the people and third, the lack of a vision for the future. If one asks the competent department at the ND party to gather Samaras’ government accomplishments for the period 2012-2014, s/he would be handed in a fat volume of measures and reformist attempts, all of which would be real. However, the lack of strategic coherence, interconnection and visionary narratives were the main reasons austerity measures failed to turn into development policies. Moreover, Samaras’ government was completely isolated from the internet realm that nowadays constitutes a way of life for almost all Greeks in the age 15-45 age range.

Most importantly, despite its incoherence, the reformist approach was about to bring results (almost did) when it was abandoned in summer 2014 as soon as SYRIZA won the European Elections. Samaras’ (centre) right party, lacking the strategy, the narrative and the vision was surrendered to its own populist self and to SYRIZA’s hordes. Their last resort was the story of a ‘left-parenthesis’, which, alas, seemed to rely more on the effective moves of the boogiemen from Brussels than on local post-election (centre) right strategies.

Thus, in January 2015, people abandoned Antonis Samaras for good, who in the meantime had fully embraced populist tactics and had moved ND party further to the right, harboring more extreme right-wing elements and elevating them into the main partisan theatre. The second half of 2014 will remain in Greek economic and political history as the period in which the Greek crisis could have ended. ECB’s QE policy, EU structural funds and Juncker Growth Plan could have been the growth tools promised to the Greek people before forced national elections occurred sometime in February 2015 (due to Presidential election). Instead, Samaras government, having already abandoned the reformist effort, called for snap national elections with the negotiations pending, the crisis at its climax and Grexit rhetoric once again on the table.

The historic victory by Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA was not only the return of the centre-left in government (via Tsipras’ Left rhetoric) but also the second time the Centre-right had failed the expectations of the people, who, in the meantime, had sacrificed a lot in the MoU adventure.

Tsipras’ attempt to reset the troika agenda led Greece through a rocky path with the country’s reputation hanging in the balance and continuous challenges shadowing the daily lives of already frustrated Greeks. The climax of SYRIZA’s heroics in Europe took the form of capital controls that affected consumer behaviour and -at least initially- damaged transactions of small and medium businesses and affected the imports of production inputs of larger companies. Economic and business climate was flattened –across the board- by constant insecurity as regards political handlings, and still, remains as such, calling for some spectacular moves that could lift the spirits amongst entrepreneurship and foreign investors. A couple of major privatisations and public works could do the trick here, providing the leftish ideology is adapted to the real world.

It is commonly argued that, in recent national elections, main opposition ND party failed to capitalize on Tsipras’ adventures in Brussels and promote an alternative to the electorate; people considered Tsipras their last chance to avoid some of the agreed MoU-3 austerity measures.

However, Meimarakis’ advisors have insisted that Sep-15 election results have been positive for the party, since the provisional leader’s strategy succeeded in keeping the (centre) right in one piece – they say Meimarakis managed to rally traditional ND voters and keep its political appeal amongst the electorate, at a 28% level, from an alleged 15% that had dived right after the referendum in July.

In the leadership challenge that climaxes on Sunday Nov-22 (a second round is possible a week later), the party’s provisional leader is facing a populist runner from the right (Adonis Georgiadis), an independent non-MP who is dominant in the north of the country (Apostolos Tzitzikostas) and a political pragmatist who has to fight with his family history (Kyriakos Mitsotakis). The party seems divided between technocrats, right-wingers, centre-right evangelists and orthodox ND supporters of Karamanlism.

Opinion polls present provisional president Evangelos Meimarakis as a frontrunner, followed by Apostolos Tzitzikostas and Kyriakos Mitsotakis who are fighting a close battle. However, last minute surprises should not be dismissed as a possibility.

Whoever prevails will have a lot on his plate. The new ND leader will have to face some massive challenges, restoring the party’s (and the centre-right’s) credibility amongst the Greek people, building a strategy for the future and developing a modern rhetoric that will make people really listen to the main opposition. The MoU-3 agenda calls for progressive political management and new ways of thinking that will turn austerity and misery into advancement and hope. This is centre-rights’ only way forward…