Can Sarkozy and Brown kiss and make up?

Will Sarkozy be forgiven for his assaults on "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism?

With Anglo-French relations at their lowest ebb since Jacques Chirac declared that Britain had the worst food in the world (after Finland), Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have co-authored a piece in today's Wall Street Journal in an attempt to repair the entente cordiale.

The latest quarrel began, you may remember, after Sarkozy launched a polemical assault on the "unconstrained Anglo-Saxon market model". With unrestrained glee, he declared that the appointment of the Frenchman Michel Barnier as the EU's financial regulation chief promised "victory" for the "European model".

Do you know what it means for me to see for the first time in 50 years a French European commissioner in charge of the internal market, including financial services, including the City [of London]?

I want the world to see the victory of the European model, which has nothing to do with the excesses of financial capitalism.

It will stand as one of the ironies of history that the man who came to power promising to do for France what Thatcher did for Britain has transformed himself into one of the most vociferous critics of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. But like his Gaullist predecessors, he has found the rhetorical appeal of the dirigiste tradition too heady to resist.

Perhaps unexpectedly, today's article isn't the bland or incoherent work it might have been. The solid social-democratic belief that the market is a good servant but a bad master underlines their appeal for a "new compact" between global banks and "the society they serve". And both are right to call for European states to introduce a one-off tax on bank bonuses.

The pair will meet on the fringes of the latest EU summit, with one diplomat commenting: "I think it'll be fine. In two years, you'll be wondering what the fuss was about."

If you accept Harold Wilson's dictum that "a week is a long time in politics", then two years is a rather long time for both sides to forgive and forget. Sarkozy and Brown would do well to begin with a new compact between themselves before turning to casino capitalism.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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