French economy minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the opening of 7th Annual Entrepreneurs conference at the economy ministry in Paris on November 17, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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French economy minister: The UK can't succeed outside the EU

Emmanuel Macron warns that leaving the European Union would reduce Britain to the status of "Jersey or Guernsey". 

Two and a half months ago, Emmanuel Macron was named France's economy minister by François Hollande with a mission to dramatically reform his country's scelerotic labour market. The 36-year-old former Rothschild banker, denounced by the Socialist Party's left as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair", is in London this week to discuss his policy programme and the future of the EU with politicians and others.

After meeting his British equivalent Vince Cable and Labour's Chuka Umunna yesterday (he meets George Osborne today), Macron delivered a briefing to journalists at the French ambassador's residence in Kensington. Speaking in fluent English, without the aid of notes, he declared that it was now "impossible" to be a "classical socialist" since the need for fiscal consolidation meant the traditional option of ramping up public spending was no longer available. Instead, he said, the French government had embarked on an "ambitious" programme of structural reform, including new tax incentives for business, the liberalisation of the 35-hour week and the loosening of Sunday trading laws, to "increase opportunity" and "restore equality of chance". “Normally we spend public money. We are doing exactly the opposite, not because we are in favour of political suicide but because we see it as a unique opportunity to do the job [of reform]," he said, vowing to "attack monopolies" in order to "restore attractiveness to risk takers". 

But he emphasised that supply-side reform had to be coupled with demand-side investment in order to succeed. He urged Germany to take advantage of its healthy public finances and stimulate growth through higher spending. "I'm not in a situation to lecture the Germans but I think that it is good for Germany and for everyone else if they invest," he said, calling for the use of €50bn from the European Stability Mechanism to fund new capital projects. He cited the experience of Portugal, where all "possible reforms" had been made but growth had failed to return, as a lesson in the limits of austerity. 

It was on the question of British EU membership, however, that Macron was most blunt. After he declared that France's future lay in Europe, I asked him whether he was troubled by the possibility of UK withdrawal as a result of the referendum promised by David Cameron in 2017. He replied:

I think the UK is a sensible nation with rational people ... Unless it wants to be Jersey or Guernsey I don't see how the UK can succeed outside Europe.

He also warned that Britain could not expect to retain access to the single market if it left the EU and told the French press corps: "There should be no scaremongering. Britain's fate is definitely in Europe, nowhere else. The question is how they want to exercise their role in Europe and what kind of Europe they want." 

At the close of the briefing, Macron, who discussed the importance of EU membership with Umunna, promised to try and "mobilise" Osborne for positive action on a European level. On that, as well as his domestic reform agenda, he will need much luck. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit confusion is scuppering my show – what next?

My week, from spinning records with Baconface, Brexit block and visiting comedy graves.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I am in the process of previewing a new live show, which I hope to tour until early 2018. It was supposed to be about how the digital, free-market society is reshaping the idea of the individual, but we are in the pre-Brexit events whirlpool, and there has never been a worse time to try to assemble a show that will still mean anything in 18 months’ time.



A joke written six weeks ago about dep­orting eastern Europeans, intended to be an exaggeration for comic effect, suddenly just reads like an Amber Rudd speech – or, as James O’Brien pointed out on LBC, an extract from Mein Kampf.

A rude riff on Sarah Vine and 2 Girls 1 Cup runs aground because there are fewer people now who remember Vine than recall the briefly notorious Brazilian video clip. I realise that something that gets a cheer on a Tuesday in Harrogate, or Glasgow, or Oxford, could get me lynched the next night in Lincoln. Perhaps I’ll go into the fruit-picking business. I hear there’s about to be some vacancies.



I sit and stare at blocks of text, wondering how to knit them into a homogeneous whole. But it’s Sunday afternoon, a time for supervising homework and finding sports kit. My 11-year-old daughter has a school project on the Victorians and she has decided to do it on dead 19th-century comedians, as we had recently been on a Music Hall Guild tour of their graves at the local cemetery. I wonder if, secretly, she wished I would join them.

I have found living with the background noise of this project depressing. The headstones that she photographed show that most of the performers – even the well-known Champagne Charlie – barely made it past 40, while the owners of the halls outlived them. Herbert Campbell’s obelisk is vast and has the word “comedian” written on it in gold leaf, but it’s in the bushes and he is no longer remembered. Neither are many of the acts I loved in the 1980s – Johnny Immaterial, Paul Ramone, the Iceman.



I would have liked to do some more work on the live show but, one Monday a month, I go to the studios of the largely volunteer-run arts radio station Resonance FM in Borough, south London. Each Wednesday night at 11pm, the masked Canadian stand-up comedian Baconface presents selections from his late brother’s collection of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s jazz, psychedelia, folk, blues and experimental music. I go in to help him pre-record the programmes.

Baconface is a fascinating character, whom I first met at the Cantaloupes Comedy Club in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1994. He sees the radio show as an attempt to atone for his part in his brother’s death, which was the result of a prank gone wrong involving nudity and bacon, though he is often unable to conceal his contempt for the music that he is compelled to play.

The show is recorded in a small, hot room and Baconface doesn’t change the bacon that his mask is made of very often, so the experience can be quite claustrophobic. Whenever we lose tapes or the old vinyl is too warped to play, he just sits back and utters his resigned, philosophical catchphrase, “It’s all bacon!” – which I now find myself using, as I watch the news, with ­depressing regularity.



After the kids go to sleep, I sit up alone and finally watch The Lady in the Van. Last year, I walked along the street in Camden where it was being filmed, and Alan Bennett talked to me, which was amazing.

About a month later, on the same street, we saw Jonathan Miller skirting some dog’s mess and he told me and the kids how annoyed it made him. I tried to explain to them afterwards who Jonathan Miller was, but to the five-year-old the satire pioneer will always be the Shouting Dog’s Mess Man.



I have the second of the final three preview shows at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre in London before the new show, Content Provider, does a week in big rooms around the country. Today, I was supposed to do a BBC Radio 3 show about improvised music but both of the kids were off school with a bug and I had to stay home mopping up. In between the vomiting, in the psychic shadow of the improvisers, I had something of a breakthrough. The guitarist Derek Bailey, for example, would embrace his problems and make them part of the performance.



I drank half a bottle of wine before going on stage, to give me the guts to take some risks. It’s not a long-term strategy for creative problem-solving, and that way lies wandering around Southend with a pet chicken. But by binning the words that I’d written and trying to repoint them, in the moment, to be about how the Brexit confusion is blocking my route to the show I wanted to write, I can suddenly see a way forward. The designer is in, with samples of a nice coat that she is making for me, intended to replicate the clothing of the central figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 German masterpiece Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.



Richard Branson is on the internet and, just as I’d problem-solved my way around writing about it, he’s suggesting that Brexit might not happen. I drop the kids off and sit in a café reading Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. I am interviewing him about it for the Guardian in two weeks’ time. It’s 1,174 pages long, but what with the show falling apart I have read only 293 pages. Next week is half-term. I’ll nail it. It’s great, by the way, and seems to be about the small lives of undocumented individuals, buffeted by the random events of their times.

Stewart Lee’s show “Content Provider” will be on in London from 8 November. For more details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage