The gripping drama being played out between Syriza and the rest of the Euro area is not just a struggle between creditors and debtors, or between countries who will play by the rules and one who thinks the rules are absurd. It is also an enthralling battle over the future of democratic parties in a variety of Euro area countries. Syrzia swept to power by crushing the centre left traditional Greek party and by defeating the centre right alternative. Both those parties were sullied by submission to EU austerity policies which had led to a decline of one quarter in Greek living standards and mass unemployment. In Spain the issue is how well will Podemos do with its anti establishment stance. In Italy can a combination of the Grillo 5 star movement and the Lega Nord put the traditional centre right and centre left to the sword? In France both the Gaulist opposition and the governing Socialists are behind Le Pen’s National Front in Presidential polls.
The interesting feature is how comprehensive the collapse of a traditional party can be under the extreme impact of Euro policies which national governments are unable to overturn or even influence much. The Socialist party of Greece, not so long ago the governing party, collapsed to 5% of the vote in January this year. In Italy Forza Italia, the old centre right governing party of Berlusconi, is today on just 12% in the polls. In France the socialist party of Mr Hollande is on just 23%.
The future of Syriza matters to both the traditional parties and the new challengers. If Syriza caves in and accepts new loans with a string of austerity conditions, traditional parties will breathe a sigh of relief. They will think that extinguishes the reason to vote for change in such an inflexible system. It may of course, just make Greek voters even angrier, looking for a new challenger party to support. It may also anger challenger parties and voters elsewhere, increasing their resolve to stand firm if their chance comes. If, on the contrary, Syriza hangs tough and gets major concessions, then the challengers elsewhere will expect to do well to enjoy the same treatment. They may of course encounter new barriers and new language against them, as the rest of the EU will be reluctant to allow others to get away with such a challenge. Greece will be portrayed as a very special case, and ring fenced.
In the UK without the austerity of the Euro and with a better performing economy, the two main parties support is holding up better than on the continent. In 2005 Labour and Conservative commanded just 67.6% of the vote in the General election. Today they have around 65% in the polls. In the UK the dramatic decline has taken place in the third party support of the Lib Dems. They had 22% in 2005, and 23% in 2010. They are now down around 6%. The top three parties of 2005 had 89.6% of the vote. In 2010 they had 90.7%. Today those same three have 71%. Most of that fall is down to third party, the Lib Dems. Protest is moving to others now the Lib Dems have been a party in government. Their enthusiasm for all things European clearly does nothing to help their popularity.