Initial reaction from East of England MEPs to the Syriza victory in Greece

17:10 Monday 26th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The Leader of the left-wing Syriza party Alex Tsipras will be sworn in as the new Greek Prime Minister later. He’s agreed to form a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greece. Both are against austerity measures imposed in return for an international bail-out. David Cameron says what’s happening in Greece shows how important it is for Britain to stick to its economic plan.
DAVID CAMERON: Instability in the Eurozone, less rapid growth from the developing economies, these things, these warning signs I believe point even more to the importance of sticking to our long-term economic plan that is delivering, rather than taking a risk with the people who got us into this mess with their plans for more borrowing, more spending, more tax.
CHRIS MANN: So, keep on course. But is that really the best idea? Let’s find out now. Let’s get two reactions. Vicky Ford is Conservative MEP for the eastern region. Hello Vicky.
VICKY FORD: Hi. Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: And she’s in our Brussels studio, along with Richard Howitt, who’s the Labour MEP for this region as well. Hello Richard.
RICHARD HOWITT: Good evening to you Chris.
CHRIS MANN: So you Richard, first of all.Your reaction to that vote in Greece.

RICHARD HOWITT: I think it is a very challenging result in Europe, and I think there are lessons for us in Britain. There is no doubt that although many bad things have happened in Greece, and I would never excuse that, the people who are suffering are suffering very deeply indeed. And the people who are suffering weren’t the people who are responsible for all the things that went wrong in the first place, and that enough is enough. They have voted by a majority to say that just continuing cuts and austerity are too painful, and they’re not working. And of course in Greece the debt has gone up, rather than down, because the cuts have been self-defeating. And for David Cameron to go into the Commons essentially to have a Tory party political broadcast, rather than actually comment on what’s happening there, here in Britain rather. The debt has gone up last year rather than gone down, and the Plan A isn’t working, because they were supposed to repay it by next year and aren’t doing it. Less Tory politics please.
CHRIS MANN: Vicky, the pips clearly have squeaked in Greece. Is that the way we’re going to go too?
VICKY FORD: I think there’s three messages here. One is thank goodness we didn’t join the Euro, and actually pulled ourselves out of the Eurozone bail-outs, which of course the last Labour Government signed us up to. But we didn’t actually go into the Greek bail-out. That’s not to underestimate the incredibly difficult situation in Greece. But thank goodness financially we’re not on the hook for that. The Greek economy is a very sad reminder of what happens when public spending gets out of control, and your debts get out of control. And in my old history of my life pre-politics I actually helped the Greeks to restructure their national debt, not just one but twice.
CHRIS MANN: You might be needed again.
VICKY FORD: That was way back in the ’80s. And then it got out of control into the Eurozone, and now it’s spiralled completely out of control. So this is a real lesson Chris.
CHRIS MANN: OK. I think I’m right in saying this is the first time that a true left-wing as in virtually Communist government has aver been voted in, ever been voted in, in Western Europe. What does that signal Richard Howitt?
VICKY FORD: This is a Communist government that is saying we think we can walk away from our debts, and try and spend our way out of trouble. And you can’t do that.
RICHARD HOWITT: What’s interesting for us in Britain is it’s a party that has only got itself elected by saying that it wants to remain part of the Euro. And if you read and listen to what its leaders are saying, and I wouldn’t agree with everything they stand by by any means, but what they’re saying is they believe they can negotiate a better deal for their country. And for Conservative politicians who say that they can convince those in Europe who don’t agree with them today to reform things, they actually should be looking at Greece and saying, well we may not agree with everything they’re saying, but the idea that a country can democratically vote for a new government, and then that government goes to Brussels and negotiates a new deal on something important to its electorate, Conservatives, instead of trying to lecture Greece and distance themselves from what happened, they should see that this could actually be a very helpful (UNCLEAR) to UK reforms.
CHRIS MANN: Let me ask you both one further question, if I can do, and that is this is a further sign of extremism in Europe. We’ve had votes to the right, and now to the left. People will be saying it just shows that Europe’s a mess, and we would be better off out of it. Vicky first.
VICKY FORD: Well the Greek people have the right to decide their own government. Absolutely that is vital. In the past, before they were in the Euro, they were able to restructure their debts, devalue, and rebuild their economy. That’s now not possible with them within the Eurozone. Why should the Germans pick up the bill for the Greeks? Now I hope that a situation will be found whereby for example they maybe given a bit more time, so that the …
CHRIS MANN: OK. Can I just press you on the point. If people will be saying that it’s time Britain got out of Europe, because of this further mess, and it could end up never mind the Germans picking up the bill, we might be picking up the bill.
VICKY FORD: Well fortunately we’re isolated from picking up the bill, because of what this Government has done to keep us out of the Eurozone. But we do need to keep that very strong trading relationship within the Single Market that is so important for so many of our businesses around Cambridge. And that’s why we’re involved here.
RICHARD HOWITT: Can I answer your question Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Richard please. Yes.
RICHARD HOWITT: I don’t disagree with what Vicky just said by the way, but you also said about the rise of extremism. It is true. I don’t endorse everything Syriza stands for, I can tell you. And of course the third party in the Greek elections was the right-wing neo-Fascist Golden Dawn party, who got something like 7% or 8% of the vote. But the reason why it’s important to stick in Europe and not fall for the Eurosceptic line, get out of it, is because if extremism of that nature, far-right or far-left extremism, grows up in Greece or other neighbour countries in Europe, we’re not insulated from it in Britain. Our best chance of supporting democratic moderate politics on our shoes, keeping peace and stability as well as prosperity for our people, is to be engaged in Europe. And that surely is the lesson from this rise in extremism in Greece.
CHRIS MANN: OK. We have to leave it there. Thank you both for joining me. That was Richard Howitt and also Vicky Ford,both MEPs, Vicky for the Conservatives, Richard for the Labour party. Both live there from our Brussels studio.