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.
Wonder if David Cameron still thinks it was wise to be too busy to meet Francois Hollande when he visited London recently. #Omnishambles
— Douglas Alexander (@DAlexanderMP) May 6, 2012
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.