How Cameron and Miliband greeted Hollande

The PM has lost an ally, while the Labour leader has gained one.

In his congratulatory message to François Hollande, Ed Miliband said the words that David Cameron could not: "I know from our conversations in London earlier this year". When the French President-elect (as we can now call him) campaigned in the capital in February, Cameron, having explicitly endorsed Nicolas Sarkozy, chose not to meet him. Miliband, by contrast, had lunch with Hollande in Westminster.

Some are now suggesting that Cameron's refusal to meet the Socialist will curse their relationship (see Douglas Alexander's tweet, below). Comparisons are being made with Bill Clinton and John Major, whom the US President never forgave for seconding Conservative Central Office staff to George Bush Snr's re-election campaign. As I wrote yesterday, however, such talk shouldn't be overdone. The Hollande camp briefed that it wasn't in their candidate's interests to be seen with a British Conservative and that they "understood" Cameron's support for Sarkozy.

Yet the point remains that Cameron has lost an ally, while Miliband has gained one. In his message to Hollande, Miliband said the new President would help Europe to "escape from austerity" and that he had shown that "the centre-left can offer hope and win elections with a vision of a better, more equal and just world". (One might add that Hollande has also shown that an allegedly uncharismatic social democrat can triumph against a flashier opponent.) The Tories are doing their best to spin the line that Hollande is not "anti-austerity" (he has pledged to eliminate France's deficit by 2017, just a year later than Sarkozy did) but they cannot ignore his support for fiscal stimulus and a more balanced approach to deficit reduction. Like Miliband and Ed Balls, he believes that Europe is going "too far, too fast".

From the sound of it, Cameron's welcome to Hollande was far blander than Miliband's. "The Prime Minister called President-Elect Hollande this evening and congratulated him on his victory," said a Downing Street spokesman. "They both look forward to working very closely together in the future and building on the very close relationship that already exists between the UK and France".

Whether or not the election of Hollande proves a help or a hindrance to Miliband will largely depend on the effect of his policies on the French economy (including a new 75 per cent rate of income tax) and whether he succeeds in re-negotiating the EU's fiscal compact to include pro-growth measures. Hollande's aides have said that he has "45 days" to achieve the latter aim. The quiet hope among the Tories is that France's economy will nosedive, providing them with a model of what would happen to the UK were voters careless enough to hand Miliband the keys to No. 10.

Ed Miliband with French President-elect François Hollande in Westminster earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.