Labour's French Connection

Article excerpt

Much advice has been proffered to the Labour leader and his team in recent months; indeed, it has rarely been in greater supply. A consistent theme has been that the public in Britain, Europe and beyond has moved to the right as a result of the economic crisis. Everywhere, we're told, the centre-left is losing.

The advice has suggested that the shadow cabinet needs to accommodate to these trends and, in particular, that we should moderate our jobs, investment and growth strategy for economic recovery. But Ed Miliband has rightly rejected the suggestion that these difficult times call for timidity from the Labour Party. Last year, he told our conference that: "In every generation, there comes a moment when we need to change the way we do things. This is one of those moments."

It is too simplistic to say that there is a universal law of electoral politics that the centre-left loses in a time of recession. In so far as there is a common factor, it is that the party in power at the time of the economic crisis tends to lose, rather than the centre-left.

We can see this now, at close hand, in France. Although the election is some weeks away and there is much still to play for, the French left has recovered its dynamism and direction after a long time in the doldrums.

The Socialist Party (PS) has concluded that difficult times call for bold choices. Francois Hollande's manifesto begins with a classic statement of centre-left democratic values: "What's at stake is the sovereignty of the republic confronted by [the power of] the market."

Hollande has surged ahead in the polls after several radical manifesto announcements, with recent results showing him 7 points clear of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Determined to cut the deficit within a single term of the presidency, he has nonetheless broken with the right-wing European consensus on austerity. In Paris the other day, in an echo of the points that Ed Balls and Miliband have been making, Hollande said that in austere times, the lack of a growth plan can only lead to more austerity.

Sarkozy's austerity government has led to damaging levels of long-term unemployment in France, with the rate of youth unemployment close to 25 per cent. …