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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Could the French prove a cautionary tale for Miliband

In today's Observer, Andrew Rawnsley writes about Ed Miliband's struggle to gain credibility as a future Prime Minister and acceptance of Labour's as-yet unspecified alternative approach to the economy. He says that although Francois Hollande is a good international role model to whom the Labour leader can point as a successful socialist President, he needs to beware a changing mood in France:

It is very important to Labour that it has now edged ahead of the Conservatives on the crucial question: "Who do you most trust to run the economy?" But thoughtful Labour people, including people close to Mr Miliband, acknowledge that this is a "soft" advantage that has more to do with declining public confidence in the coalition's economic strategy than a settled conviction among the voters that Labour has the right answers. Labour is currently very quiet on how it would address the deficit beyond saying that it wouldn't be cutting the way the government is cutting. By the time of the next election, it will have to look fiscally credible and have robust answers on tax and spend, terrain that has been a minefield for Labour in the past.

Here the example of Monsieur Hollande is not so much inspirational as cautionary for the Labour leader. The French president's poll ratings are already beginning to droop now that he has to square his more extravagant campaign promises with the reality of governing during austerity. If the French and other continental social democrats can demonstrate a way out of the economic cul-de-sac in which Europe is stuck, then this ought to be good news for Labour. But if it all goes horribly wrong for Monsieur Hollande, it will not be Ed Miliband but David Cameron who will be giving French lessons to the British electorate.

Economic realities were recognised by the previous Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. Alistair Darling, who planned an austerity programme very similar to that currently being deployed by the UK Coalition.

Labour need to get real and specific if they are to convince voters that there really is another way. Because as Monsieur Hollande has demonstrated, once you are in power, all the promises mean nothing in the face of the very real pressures of Government.
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