Cameron admits the UK is dependent on exports to the Eurozone

Labour Party

Wittingly or not, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted Britain is dependent on markets in the Eurozone for our exports on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. In other words, the UK is inherently part of the economic system across the European Union, in spite of strenuous efforts to remain outside not only the single currency but the more recent fiscal pact designed to mitigate the current economic problems.

This is absolutely not a good place to be. To be outside deliberations on the European economy, yet affected in a fundamental way, but with no means of influencing what happens to the majority of your exports is utter folly. In the same way, not being party to economic decisions which will have a profound impact on the British people is somewhere a responsible government should never find itself.

But Cameron, Clegg et al are not responsible. Cameron’s hatred of Europe is not good for Britain. Moreover, Cameron has alienated German Chancellor Angela Merkel who should be a key ally. His recent suggestion that the governance of the Euro is not yet resolved has, apparently, angered her. Taken in conjunction with Merkel’s fury when the British Conservatives left the centre-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, this does not bode well. Diplomacy and influence are all about gaining friends, especially significant ones, not annoying them.

The Cameron/Merkel stand-off could become even more unfortunate given the likely victory of Socialist Francois Hollande in the French presidential election on Sunday. Hollande has made it clear he will not go along with the austerity demanded by Angela Merkel and that he will not ratify any austerity deal put forward by Nicolas Sarkozy.

So where does this leave the UK?  Cameron appears to side with Merkel but she will not have much to do with him. France, potentially the EU’s second most important member state after Germany, is likely to elect a President calling for growth to lift Europe out of recession. Cameron, meanwhile, is fretting on the side-lines with nowhere to go.

A victory for Francois Hollande would, of course, be of huge benefit to Europe. We would at last have someone in a position of huge authority against full-on austerity making the case for growth. This would also give a massive boost to the Labour Party. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have been arguing a similar case since the beginning of the crisis; they now will perhaps be heard rather better that they have so far. As Ed Balls said in the Guardian yesterday, “It is no good the prime minister telling us that the Eurozone crisis is going to last a long time. Cameron and George Osborne must accept their share of the blame”.

As, indeed they must. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed that 32% blame the return to recession on UK government policies, 29% on the Eurozone and global factors and only 17% on the last Labour government. Cameron and Osborne should take note of what happens in France on Sunday. The result may tell us a lot about the future direction of Europe and the UK.

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Andrew Rawnsley discussed what he called the ‘omnishambles’ that is the government in his column for the Observer this week.

As he said, ‘it’s a great word which encapsulates the government’s serial misjudgements and misadventures, from granny taxes and petrol panics to the boomeranging budget and Theresa May’s lost day.’

Miliband managed to make use of the word during last week’s Question Time, and as Rawnsley pointed out it was a public space in which to get the word out there in the hope that it enters the British lexicon.

Rawnsley questions whether this current situation is a blip or something more significant for the coalition government, after all the Budget was over a month ago and that kicked off this period of omnishambolism which has yet to show signs of improvement.

Rawnsley suggests we are seeing something more significant than a blip. You can read his full article here.

Something of a shocking statistic was revealed over the weekend in the Sunday Times which suggested that some 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations (FGM) with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, the paper reported.

Investigators from the Sunday Times said they had secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform FGM or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.

The practice of, or arranging for, FGM to be carried out is illegal and can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

That anyone would face this kind of barbaric treatment is incredible, that it is happening on our doorstep is shocking and indicates just how little we know about this terrible crime.

You can read more here.

The first round of the French Presidential elections is complete and François Hollande has moved a step closer to becoming the new President, the first socialist in a generation.

For President Sarkozy it is particularly humiliating because this is the first time an outgoing President has failed to win a first-round vote in the past 50 years. You can read more on the first round of the election here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

The French Presidential elections are getting exciting, and the focus of the UK media has turned to French expats living in the UK. Quite how they will vote is uncertain, with vastly different pieces in both the Guardian and the Telegraph; the latter claims ‘Most French expats support Sarkozy and the Guardian meanwhile says ‘support for Sarkozy looks to be wearing thin.’

There are an estimated 300,000-400,000 people who have hopped across the pond to live in the UK. The Guardian article interviewed a professor of French and European politics, Phillippe Marliere, at UCL who said that the idea the French community is inevitably right wing is out dated, and the picture has changed over the last 18 years.

The Telegraph draws on a survey, for the newspaper Le Petit Journal and TV5 Monde, which showed that 37% of French expats would cast their vote for the conservative Sarkozy in the first round of the presidential election on April 22, while only 27% would vote for the other frontrunner, the left-wing François Hollande.

You can read the Telegraph article here. And the Guardian article is available here.

Last month reduced the top rate of Tax to 45p but there are plans to go further. In a pre-election give away the Chancellor is planning to cut further the top rate for high earners to 40p.

I was left angry but not surprised when it was revealed yesterday that senior Tories have told Vincent Moss, political editor of the British newspaper the Sunday Mirror, that Osborne is determined to abolish the 45p rate before the expected election in 2015.

A Tory source said: ‘Osborne wants to get it down to 40p as soon as possible. That is unlikely to be till 2014. But he wants it in place before the election.

‘The 50p rate was Labour policy and we’re determined to cut it back to 40p.’

I wonder where the Lib Dems will stand on this issue.

You can read the full story here.

Yesterday’s Observer had a great profile of Anna van Heeswijk who has just been appointed CEO of Object, an influential feminist organisation in the UK. She will be tasked with spearheading the fight against the “pornification” of society.

The appointment comes only weeks after Van Heeswijk gave powerful and influential evidence to the Leveson inquiry about the sexist portrayal of women in the press.

This will be a great challenge but as the profile reveals Anna was born in to a strongly political household and she says ‘there was no way I wasn’t going to be a feminist’.

You can read the profile in full here.

Ed Miliband is to meet François Hollande

Labour Party

Ed Miliband is due to meet the French Socialist Presidential candidate François Hollande in London on Wednesday. Having suggested on this blog that Ed campaign for M. Hollande in the forthcoming Presidential elections in France, I am delighted that the two centre-left, dare I say, socialist leaders have agreed to meet.

I have picked up that the talks will focus on economic growth. With the EU and the UK in the grip of right-wing imposed austerity this, of course, very welcome. As I maintained in my earlier blogpost, if M. Hollande were to win, as the opinion polls are still predicting, France under a centre-left leader would be in a position to challenge the prevailing right-wing economic orthodoxy. This would, I believe, be of enormous benefit to Europe as a whole. It would also force David Cameron and George Osborne ton rethink their disastrous cuts agenda which is doing our country so much harm.

It is very heartening that M. Hollande is taking his meeting with Ed Miliband seriously. He is bringing with him his campaign manager, former French Foreign Minister Pierre Moscovici who also used to be an MEP, and Elisabeth Guigou, French Justice Minister from 1997-2000. On our side will be Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander, Shadow Chancellor and Foreign Secretary, plus the Europe Minister Emma Reynolds, who helpfully speaks French fluently.

In the context of how to pull Europe out of recession, the meeting is likely to look at Hollande’s idea of a contract between the generations, a concept not a million mikes away from Ed Miliband’s idea of a British Promise. Both leaders are comfortable discussing ideas and viewing the big picture.

Contact such as this with another centre-left European leader is immensely valuable. In the case of M. Hollande who remains the front-runner to become French President, it is completely the right thing to do. Hollande is apparently not meeting David Cameron. I wonder why not?

Ed Miliband should follow Merkel’s example and campaign for Hollande in the same way as she is for Sarkozy

Labour Party

The Presidential election in France to be held on 22 April with a further round on 5 May, if necessary, matters hugely to the rest of Europe. Were Francois Hollande to win, there would be one significant voice at the top table in Europe opposed to the current centre-right imposition of continent-wide austerity as the sole solution to the economic crisis. France would provide an alternative policy, and a humane one to boot, which is lacking at present.

Chancellor Merkel has astutely realised the importance of the French election from her point of view, and has already announced that she will campaign for her fellow conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy. Rather sensibly David Cameron, I suspect, realises that his support for M Sarkozy would be a vote loser rather than a winner.

The same does not apply to Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership team. Ed going to France to campaign for Francois Hollande could be combined with a real effort to secure the votes of the 300,000 French nationals living in the UK for M Hollande. Such bold moves would go a long way towards signalling a new era of European co-operation between parties on the centre-left. It may also lead to the emergence of a European centre-left agenda for jobs and growth.

The 60 proposals put forward by Holland in France represent a radical departure from 10 years of conservative government in that country. Hollande is committed to renegotiating the “fiscal pact”. While not rejecting budgetary discipline, the French socialists do not accept austerity without accompanying measures for growth.

What is more, Francois Hollande was selected as the Socialist Presidential candidate by three million socialists in an open primary, the first time such an experiment has been tried in France. This was not some internal political party stitch-up but a democratic election, and as such deserves recognition.

There is also the growing problem of the Front National in France. Its new leader, Marine le Pen, is a more formidable opponent than her openly racist and xenophobic father Jean-Marie. Although she objects to the term “far right”, make no mistake – that is exactly what she is.

It is a matter of huge concern that Le Pen’s opinion poll ratings have been going up, reaching the levels of those of President Nicolas Sarkozy. She even came top in one poll while another said that one in two of those questioned saw the Front National as “a party like the others”.

According to the BBC, commentator Agnes Poirier thinks Mme Le Pen may well “do better than her father in [the presidential elections of] April 2002, that is to say she is very likely to be present at the second round [of voting] and therefore likely to knock Nicolas Sarkozy out of the race… of the elections.”

Despite her softer image, Marine le Pen is the mirror image of her father. The Front National remains a hard, ultra-right party. During a speech in December 2010, Marine le Pen called the regular blocking of public streets for Muslim prayers in French cities an “occupation of parts of the territory”. Marine Le Pen now senses a political opportunity for “a more moderately presented, more middle class, more gently smiling form of extremism, rather than a snarling form of extremism”.

Campaigning in the French Presidential elections would provide Ed Miliband with the opportunity to stand up against racism and the far-right as well as supporting an economic policy with the interests of the people of Europe at its heart. The French campaign to choose their President matters more to us than that in the United States. The Labour leadership has the opportunity to make a bold stand which also has the merit of being the right thing to do.