The Danger of the Political Promise

1 May 2015

Earlier this year after suffering years of severe austerity measures under New Democracy and their social-democratic coalition partners PASOK, the Greek majority had finally had enough. Syriza saw their opportunity to change the status quo, freeing the country from the desperate state it had sunk into, by offering a new future for Greece at the general election last January. Alexis Tsipras, now Greece's prime minister, assured the masses that there was an alternative to austerity. He promised that his party could resolve their economic troubles and successfully negotiate a solution at the EU table, all whilst staying in the Eurozone. Sound attractive? It did, and as a result, Syriza now find themselves in government.



The trouble is, as Tsipras has duly realised, Greece's debt has not magically disappeared despite Syriza’s sunny optimism. Regardless of how they want to go about creating more reforms in exchange for rescue money, they have got to do so if they want to reduce the risk to their financial fate. The Greek economy is currently no better than when New Democracy-PASOK were in power. Indeed, it could deteriorate further if Syriza fail to make their forthcoming deadline. Greece is now in deadlock with their European partners, a situation that cannot be easily negotiated given that they lack the financial means to resolve it. If Greece fails to tackle their debt in time, by the end of the summer they may well be heading for a ‘Grexit’, losing EU support and returning to the drachma. There is already concern for tourists planning to visit the country in the coming months, with some reports suggesting that holidaymakers should take extra cash with them just in case the banks suddenly collapse whilst they’re over there. The situation is at a critical stage and Syriza cannot denounce its severity.  


Here lies the problem with the political promise. When power is hypothetical, why not up the offers? However, if power does materialize, parties need to be in a position to deliver on their pledges. In the UK, similarities can be drawn in relation to the misjudged offerings seen over in Greece. With a little more borrowing, Labour want to raise the minimum wage, save the NHS and help thousands onto the property ladder all whilst cutting the deficit. Risky? Maybe. But it sounds attractive to many. On the other hand, the Conservatives claim that their long-term economic plan is the only realistic solution to restoring Britain's economic prosperity, believing that borrowing should not be the first point of call. That said, they also seek to spend an extra £8billion a year on the NHS by 2020, build 200,000 starter homes and ensure that all people working 30 hours per week on the minimum wage pay no income tax. How will they pay for it all? Don’t ask, just believe. Of course, if you’re disillusioned with Labour and the Tories and seek a radical alternative, one could always vote UKIP. They want out of the EU, stricter controls on immigration and a return to British values. Some traditional Conservatives have already jumped ship. Another option could be the Greens. They claim that they’ll be able to pay off your student loan, end austerity and restore the public sector whilst saving the planet all at the same time. “That’s it, I’m going Green,” a friend exclaimed after the recent leaders’ debate. Why not? Who wouldn’t want to see an end to tuition fees?

Election pledges are often made with the best of intentions. All parties genuinely do aspire to successfully end austerity and create a better future for their country; however, it is essential for all to be realistic in what they offer. If the minimum wage can be increased despite a looming deficit then great, but if the promise cannot manifest itself in reality, it only results in dispassionate voters who end up resenting the lures of political rhetoric. With a week to go before Britain heads to the polls, the electorate has little time to decide who is offering the most viable plan for the future of the UK. Whichever party comes out on top must tackle the realities they are faced with. They’ll need to prove that their promises can stand up in reality, a factor that Greece has yet to see in Syriza.

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