The “immediate plan” for the Euro from David Cameron and President Obama is an illusion

Labour Party

As David Cameron met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on one level it is reassuring to know that the Prime Minister thinks decisive action needs to be taken in order to underpin the Eurozone, as reported in the Guardian yesterday. The quote from the Prime Minister’s spokeswomen goes on to say that confidence in the markets is essential, and in order to regain that confidence decisive action needs to be taken.

The unfortunate aspect of the story is that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are in no position to take any kind of decisive action. By waltzing out of the last December’s European summit which established the fiscal pact, David Cameron threw away any hope the UK may have had of a voice in the future of the single currency. Although this may not be a bad thing at the present time since another voice supporting austerity would not be helpful for the Eurozone, it leaves the UK powerless when it comes to the Euro. If Cameron leaves any lasting legacy, he will go almost certainly go down in history as the Prime Minister who sold Britain down the river.

Mr Cameron’s is now following a long tradition of British Prime Ministers turning to the United States of America. Apparently in a telephone conversation the night before last reported in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron agreed with President Obama that there is a need for “an immediate plan” to resolve the Eurozone crisis. Mr Cameron seems to view this weasely statement as significant, strong enough to make sure the British media knew about it.

Of course the problems in the Eurozone need resolving; no-one would disagree with that. The UK’s economic woes also need sorting out. Even the United States itself could do with a bit of economic firepower. There are two points to be considered. One is that the world is now a very small place and economic difficulties can never be confined to one country or region.

The second point is more specific. Neither President Barack Obama nor Prime Minister David Cameron has competence to deal with the Eurozone’s affairs. The G20 summit in Mexico later this month will discuss the Euro and many other economic issues and will more than likely seek to find an acceptable way forward.

However, the power to make decisions on the future of the Euro, how the Eurozone is governed and what will be done to improve the current situation, such as introducing Eurobonds, will be for the members of the fiscal pact to decide. Britain is not there. Lecturing Eurozone leaders about what they should or should not do makes no difference as the power has already been conceded. Cameron’s hectoring only further alienates other EU leaders and is therefore not a wise long-term policy.

President Obama has, of course, been much too sensible and rational to lecture the Europeans. He no doubt views talking to the British Prime Minister as a courtesy and probably keeps close to Britain as much for old time’s sake as anything else.

That really sums up the UK’s current standing with the United States. We are, of course, still strong allies, share a common language and go back a long way. Nevertheless, the relationship these days is all one way, the way of the USA. Britain has little real power in relation to its transatlantic ally, and now very little power in the Eurozone which is bound to lead to an erosion of influence in the European Union.

David Cameron could not have done better if he had wilfully set out to reduce Britain’s standing. Much of his anti-EU shenanigans has been to placate his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers. On Wednesday’s Newsnight Tory MEP Daniel Hannan sang the praises of Norway and Switzerland telling us how they thrived outside the European Union. With the greatest respect to both of these countries, they are happy to be isolated and have never sought any position on the world stage. Britain, I believe, still wants to be a leading international power. The only way to do this is to play a full and leading role in the European Union.

L’Exception Francaise and Lessons for Labour

Labour Party

Francois Hollande will more than likely make it. He will, at the same time, make history. Not only is Hollande the first Socialist since Francois Mitterand, elected President in 1981, to come within reach of the French Presidency, his agenda is diametrically opposed to the current European orthodoxy.

As analysed earlier on this blog, Hollande is putting forward a credible plan for resolving the current economic crisis which relies on growth as well as austerity. The 60 proposals out forward by Hollande represent a radical departure from 10 years of conservative government in France. Hollande is also keen to renegotiate the Euro “fiscal pact”. His policies put forward a much needed alternative to the stagnation and lack of vision currently gripping the European Union and beyond.

While Hollande’s success is probably only confined to France, we should not underrate its significance. This is a major change, a defining moment for the centre-left in Europe and therefore the Labour Party in the UK. Even though no two countries or political systems are directly comparable and the French presidential arrangement is a million miles away from our parliamentary process, what happens in France will obviously have an effect in Britain. When one centre left leader comes within reach of the highest office, this obviously has a knock-on effect in other countries. Hollande reaching the top can only be good news for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.  

We are, I believe, beginning to see a revival in support for the centre left. It is true, of course, that Hollande has been helped by Nicolas Sarkozy’s manic flamboyance. However, that could never be the full story. Unpopular leaders only allow the opposition to go so far. The French Socialist success is much more than that. When the votes cast for the fiery left-wing radical Melenchon are taken into account, it becomes very clear that the French electorate has voted in favour of the left.

It is, of course, true that this particular election for a President of France has not generated a high level of enthusiasm. It may indeed be the case that this is the 21st century way in elected politics; people vote out of duty rather than conviction. Yet they do still vote and show their preferences, which are moving again in a leftwards direction in France at least.

While this may be true for the majority, it would be folly to ignore the high vote for Marine le Pen. The Front National may be on an even bigger roll that the French Socialists. Gaining nearly 20 per cent of the vote is tantamount to almost winning a place at the top table. Le Pen may not be in the final run off as her father was in 2002 but the Front National is now a settled force in French politics.

This is, of course, the downside to the French presidential elections. For those of us in the mainstream Labour movement, the strong support for the Front National from blue collar workers is a huge cause for concern. The same phenomenon of ultra-right support coming from white manual workers is taking place in the UK. The real worry is that these voters used to form Labour’s core and they are turning away. The centre left across Europe ignores this at its peril. We must find a way of appealing across the board to white and black, those in work as well as the unemployed and, of course, the better off in addition to those who have less.

So it’s a mixed bag. Centre left success coupled with ultra-right wins. While we await the outcome of the second round on Sunday, I can only hope that we see and hear more analysis of this historic French presidential election than we have so far. We have in the UK been fed far too much about the United States contest with interminable excrescences about the whackiest of Republican hopefuls and very little about what has been happening on our own doorstep. And it’s the French result which will affect us the most.