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What Ed Miliband can learn from across the Channel

Hollande is not afraid to take on reactionary, right-wing austerity and challenge the status quo.

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. François 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. Having so many people out of work damages the social fabric; it is also difficult to cut the deficit when the fiscal costs of unemployment are so high.

This is why Hollande has also said that he will put people back to work and begin to resolve acute social problems in the large cities and elsewhere by building a remarkable 150,000 social houses over the course of his presidency. France would use a newly created investment bank to secure fresh investment in a green economy and to favour small and medium-sized enterprises. All of this would contribute to the creation of 300,000 new jobs.

Hollande has listened to the Occupy movement and has placed the "99 per cent" message at the heart of his party's agenda. A substantial part of his deficit reduction strategy is to close down tax loopholes and to introduce a "bankers' tax" - both fundamental aspects of Labour's policy agenda, too.

Many ordinary French people have concluded that the system of austerity with no exit cannot be endured. Hollande and the PS are tapping into this mood. To the left of the PS, other parties are gaining support: the Greens, as well as the Front de gauche (the Left Front), look as though they have almost 10 per cent in the polls.

Marine's corps

Ominously, another movement is being driven by the widespread desire for change. Under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, the neo-fascist National Front (FN) has dropped some of its more outrageous rhetoric and has also adopted an anti-austerity programme that is gaining support. The PS has understood that the best way to defeat Sarkozy and resist the threat from the FN is to adopt a bold but realistic and popular response
to the problems facing France.

Hollande is not afraid to take on reactionary, right-wing austerity and challenge the status quo. Labour will be watching closely these next few weeks.

Don't dare whisper it yet but there is a real chance that we will soon have an ally in the Élysée Palace.

Jon Trickett is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The last Tsar

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David Cameron’s speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.