The Blog

Britain Could Use Its Own Yanis Varoufakis

"I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride"; so said outgoing Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis yesterday, as he announced his post-referendum resignation with characteristic acerbic wit. Such blunt honesty is chiefly why it's been Varoufakis, and not Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, hogging the press attention as the crisis in Greece has unfolded. In just a short time, Varoufakis has made an impact in world politics and challenged the shaky status quo in Europe. Now apparent pressure from other European finance ministers and his own party has meant Varoufakis's ministerial job will go to another.

Varoufakis's resignation-with-a-push is no doubt in part down to his laissez-faire approach to life - saying what he likes about who he likes, or doesn't, and pressing on with what he believes in even in the face of staunch opposition. Varoufakis is nothing like our finance minister in the UK, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. In appearance alone they are strikingly dissimilar. Whereas Osborne's an ill-fitted suit-and-tie man nervously holding a battered red briefcase, Varoufakis prefers leather jacket and t-shirt, looking every bit like the shaven-headed gym instructor to Osborne's uptight, plastic-haired estate agent.

Predictably, in dealing with a politician slightly off-centre, the world's media has presented Varoufakis as some kind of rock star, a motorcycle-riding rebel with a wife who inspires hit Pulp songs. It's a distraction - Varoufakis may appear outwardly meme-worthy, but he's been the real deal for Greece, negotiating tirelessly with a ruthless Europe over whether or not the country deserves a paddle whilst they're up shit creek. George Osborne, in contrast, is the personification of cronyism in British politics, a long-time pal of the PM who found his way into the Conservative Party through a friend he met at Oxford. One sweats over crucial meetings, the other can't even stay tuned in for PMQs. If one appears to care too much, the other sometimes doesn't appear to care at all.

Varoufakis stands opposed to our own Chancellor in another, more crucial way: he's actually qualified for the position. Though the Cabinet Office has said there are "no set financial qualification criterion which the appointee must hold", it's generally assumed the finance minister of any country should at least have a relevant background. Even as a young man, Varoufakis was involved in politics, setting up a youth wing for Greece's socialist PASOK party, and organising and distributing leaflets beginning - he claims - at the age of 13. Osborne's "small act of rebellion" at the same age consisted of him changing his name from Gideon to George.

From there, Varoufakis's young interest in politics and economics is contrasted sharply by Osborne's own apparent disinterest. Aged 21, Varoufakis would begin an MSc in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Birmingham and a PhD in Economics at the University of Essex, having already completed an Economics BA at the latter. At the same age, George Osborne had a Modern History degree from Oxford and was pursuing a career in journalism. As Varoufakis would write books on game theory and lecture at universities around the world, Osborne would fold towels for Selfridges and act as a data entry clerk for the NHS. As Osborne - his dream career in journalism failed - would use his Oxford connections to work his way up the Conservative ladder, Varoufakis would become an adviser in economics to future Greek prime minister George Papandreou after decades of working in the field.

Of course, Varoufakis would later publicly disassociate himself from Papandreou when he came to disagree with his government's changing approach to the economy. It was a bold gesture, and it's implied Varoufakis's pride similarly contributed to his stepping down as finance minister yesterday, the man so resolute in talks in Europe that he gained a reputation as a difficult negotiator. Varoufakis has accumulated both popularity and notoriety because of his apparently unshakable principles; in comparison, Osborne has in his own country gained a reputation as someone who talks up the lie of austerity, sells public assets to friends and attempts to block moves to implement progressive tax measures.

In Greece, Varoufakis has been instrumental in Syriza's bid to find a better deal for its citizens. In Britain, Osborne has presided over cuts that have increased homelessness and child poverty, sent the worst-off crawling to food banks and even led to the deaths of the unfit for work and those unable to pay winter fuel bills. And with his proposed £12 billion fresh cuts to welfare, Osborne is showing no sign of holding back on the harsh austerity measures which have damaged his country, which economists have dismissedtime and again as irresponsible and dangerous, and which the Greek people have just outright rejected in a vote.

Osborne either lacks the comprehension to understand austerity doesn't work, or is missing the necessary compassion and the backbone to do what's best for his people. Greece may have only had Yanis Varoufakis for 161 days, but he's set a precedent there (his replacement, the Varoufakis-approved Euclid Tsakalotos, is similarly anti-austerity) that Britain isn't courageous enough to follow. Varoufakis will be missed, and not just for the gloriously caustic soundbites. He actually cared about Greece, and had the requisite knowledge to wrangle the best available deal for the country. It's a shame Britain doesn't have its own Varoufakis, to motivate, inspire and improve. But then he'd probably be too qualified for the job in the first place.

This article originally appeared on Shamocracy.