Does Cameron's Hollande snub matter?

A meeting between the PM and the French Socialist was in neither man's interests.

François Hollande, who remains the likely winner of the French presidential election, is in London today, where he will meet Ed Miliband (who will not be endorsing his policy of a 75 per cent top tax rate) but will not meet David Cameron.

The line from Downing Street is that it would be "unsual for the Prime Minister to meet the opposition candidate once an election campaign is underway". But Cameron has made no secret of his preference for Nicolas Sarkozy. He recently told Le Figaro:

He has done extraordinarily important things for France. It will be for the French people to decide, I do not have to interfere in this choice. Nicolas Sarkozy has my support. I say it clearly.

The standard view on the left and the right is that the Prime Minister, who will have to work with whoever wins, should not interfere in a foreign election. Tory MP Douglas Carswell, for instance, has criticised Cameron for "running our foreign policy like a scene from Love Actually with subtitles". But the Hollande camp is more relaxed, believing that Sarkozy's reliance on foreign leaders widens the gulf between him and his people. As Rafael wrote recently, there is no huge electoral advantage for a Socialist candidate to be seen "hobnobbing with the Tory leader". Cameron, meanwhile, who is anxious to reassure the Tories and the City of his pro-business credentials, has seized an opportunity to snub an "anti-capitalist".

And with Merkel openly cheering Sarkozy on, we may be seeing a pragmatic acceptance on both sides that socialists will support socialists and conservatives will support conservatives.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.