When I spoke last Saturday at the Up the Anti conference in London I should have framed my remarks around the approach taken by Syriza in Greece. While Syriza hasn’t been able to form a government its electoral success has useful lessons for the British left. At the moment the main beneficiaries of the economic crisis here seem to be the nationalist right in the form of UKIP.
Syriza operates in a way that responds to Greece’s system of multi-seat constituencies. Individual parties in the coalition are given an allotment of more or less winnable seats to contest and each campaigns under the Syriza banner, on the Syriza platform. Not having proportional representation, it makes sense for Greek leftists to campaign with reference to one another.
In Britain we start out as a kind of super-Greece, or Greek+.
Instead of multi-seat constituencies we have single-seat, sudden death constituencies where the large parties often have large and entrenched majorities. Meanwhile the Left outside Labour is fragmented and enjoys very little support from the trade unions, very little support from anyone. It isn’t clear that there is a party that could play the role of Synapsismos in a British Syriza, even if it wanted to.
I don’t want to be prescriptive about what the Left should or shouldn’t do. There is plenty of that to go round. But, in the absence of an electoral coalition like Syriza, it would be a good, I think, to build one, whether the parties who will eventually benefit want us to or not. That means organizing in the constituencies and making informed decisions about the best tactics to pursue in the existing political geography, so that when the election comes, the radical left that emerges is stronger and better organized than it is now.
I am familiar with the objections to representative democracy. The question is whether we can gather sufficient strength to turn representatives into delegates.
Anyway, my piece for Al Jazeera this week is about this.