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Political Evolution

People everywhere want a new relationship with power – more autonomy and more respect. This reflects our current era, in which new knowledge, ideas, and possibilities have made our identities richer, more fluid, and less subject to fate. At the same time, the information society and globalization have made ours a more insecure world, where we experience risks that politics-as-usual has been unable to address.

As the leader of a political party, the central idea for me nowadays is to empower individuals. A traditional party leader says to his followers, “You can trust me. ” I think the future for progressive politics lies in leaders trusting citizens . It’s a new kind of relationship.

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We in PASOK, the party that I lead, have started to think through what we want out of politics in a practical sense and how this can be delivered in a way that respects people’s lives. We’re making changes at the top in order to open up our party to greater participation. We need to highlight, not hide , different views, and see our parties less as “war headquarters” and more as bio-diverse think tanks or workshops.

People can easily become lost in today’s ocean of information. They will always be looking for a lighthouse, faros , as we say in Greek. But what are these lighthouses? In an information society they will be those who are trusted to be able to help interpret or analyse what is happening.

So I believe that the future for political parties is to develop a culture of debate, dialogue, and critical understanding of issues, where people can help set a nation’s priorities and are not simply told by experts or their leaders what is right and wrong for them.

Big issues, such as migration, narcotics, or the environment, no longer fall within a traditional left-right framework. For example, people may see an inevitable tradeoff between tough environmental standards and jobs. But these same people often want both. It is no longer just one side against the other. The nature of capitalist growth requires us to take a more holistic view and work out how we can achieve sustainable development.

Of course, bringing more democracy into our daily lives cannot mean perpetual debate, without actually making decisions. Rather, it should mean that certain principles of respect, consultation, and deliberation become part of everyday life.

There is, by contrast, a traditional style of leadership that almost encourages fear and insecurity, so that a savior can come along and say, “I am the one who will solve this.” President George W. Bush projects this style very openly. I opposed the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq because this type of foreign policy is associated with a form of power – resurgent, I believe, in conservative parties around the world – that projects leadership as command.

I know this mindset well. When I was first elected as a member of parliament in 1981, people said, “Now George, you’ve got to bang the table.” People would say you look weak if you’re not cursing the opposition and driving around in a big black car wearing a tie. Above all, to be “strong,” you’re supposed to be giving orders.

I said to myself, “I’m going to have to go about things in a more democratic way.” I realized that I would have to fight to communicate what I wanted to achieve. There was a whole political culture that had to change.

Part of my thinking concerns personal style, but also something deeper: the relationship between professional politicians and voters. Obviously, there is a point where a leader must commit to a decision. But one can do this in ways that are not violent and aggressive, by defending the principles of that new relationship. Power by itself has no principles.

Our societies and citizens need more freedom if we are to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and secure world. Consider the example of Greek-Turkish relations, which had hardened under the compressed weight of “establishment” views that were long entrenched in both countries. Only a new approach could break the mold of conventional wisdom.

Quite often in confrontational situations, people and politicians create a zero-sum game culture, which results in authoritarian and militaristic leadership. We in the former PASOK government instead helped create a more positive framework by declaring our commitment to work for consensus, thereby creating the basis for trust and mutual understanding.

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Political parties everywhere must now become an agent for similar change. Nowadays, the framework of power itself – the old-fashioned party hierarchy that takes command of the state or municipality – is a kind of abuse. It takes power away from people in their own names, but gives them fear rather than confidence.

Not surprisingly, my party is now seeking to return to power in the next election. But we’re also looking deeper and further ahead. We will not be returned to government unless we offer a better kind of democracy in the long term. In this enedeavor, we hope to set an example to the world.