Tag Archives: centre-left

Sorry Isn’t Good Enough for Clegg

Elton John once famously sang that sorry seemed to be the hardest word. However, as Nick Clegg found at yesterday, on the eve of a conference of Lib Dems baying for blood, with your job on the line and faced by a public that quite openly hates you, it actually slips out quite easily. And so it was that Nick Clegg decided to grovel to the British public yesterday in a rather pathetic video message on the eve of the Lib Dems annual conference.

The intentions behind Clegg’s message are obvious. Firstly, he probably genuinely is sorry. Not sorry that he’s forcing many of the poorest to reconsider going to university by trebling tuition fees but sorry that he managed to, with one fatal move, place his party on a collision course with voters. Clegg’s shameful reversal struck at the heart of Lib Dem voters, who expected their party to stand tall in coalition, not to be bullied by the Tory party, yet Clegg’s reneging on the Lib Dems’ promise to abolition tuition fees was a reversal too far. It not only hit at the student vote, previously very generous to the Lib Dems compared to the country as a whole, but also moved the party towards the right-wing, whilst Labour moved away from their days on the right under Blair and retook the space that the Lib Dems had filled since Blair dismayed Labour’s core support. In reneging on one of his party’s central promises then Clegg, in one fell swoop, split the Lib Dem vote, losing a large chunk. This explains the real reason why Clegg is sorry.

However, perhaps as some Lib Dems have suggested, Clegg’s apology with be seen as a breath of fresh air within the country? The same Nick Clegg that voters were attracted to, the man who was different to the other politicians, may have proven the validity of these credentials by apologising, a move rarer in the Westminster village than a heart in the Tory party. Well, no. The truth is that Clegg’s apology looks opportunistic and is simply too little too late.

Firstly, the necessity of Clegg’s backtracking over the initial problem simply proves that the Lib Dems were unacquainted to, and unready for, the power thrust upon them by the coalition agreement. The Lib Dems, in a desperate measure to garner support, appear to have been making all the right noises probably presuming that they, once again, would be out of power. Therefore, when they found themselves in the middle of a squabble between the two larger parties, both of whom wished to court the Lib Dems into coalition with them, their policies suddenly became important, and the truth is they didn’t stack up. If Clegg is now admitting (as both the Labour and Tory parties realised prior to the 2010 election) that abolishing tuition fees was unrealistic, the question remains why on earth did he ever commit the Lib Dems to the policy? Committing to unrealistic policy measures such as this when outside of government shows the voters a level of political immaturity that is simply scandalous.

Furthermore, Clegg’s apology looks even more opportunistic when we consider his other reneged upon promises which he is yet to apologise for: one example being from a conference speech a number of years ago when he has this to say: “Will I ever join a Conservative government? No!” He is yet to apologise for this. He is also yet to apologise for the rise in VAT which he promised to oppose. He also promised to protect the NHS and is now standing idly by whilst the Tories happily take it apart and sell it off to private companies. Whilst I realise that the Lib Dems, being the smaller party in the coalition cannot have their way on every policy measure, you would think that there would be some kind of pre-drawn line based on principles such as the protection of the poor and public services such as the NHS. The lack of apology, or even mention of, these further policy failings proves just how opportunistic and deceitful Clegg’s ‘apology’ is. It is not simply luck that the deputy prime minister has chosen to apologise for the one policy change that still really rankles with the public and is particularly blamed on the Lib Dems.

The truth is that Clegg is ruined in the eyes of the voting public and this is most likely an irreparable relationship. Clegg has consistently broken policy pledges and allowed the Tory party to use Lib Dem principles as a welcome mat on the steps of Downing Street. It is time for Clegg to stand up for Lib Dem principles or stand aside to allow someone who will to lead the party. In the same conference speech where Clegg lied about joining the Tories he said that “everyone wants to be in our [the Lib Dem’s] gang”. The sad truth for Clegg is that no-one wants to be in his gang anymore, not even his own party.

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Hollande’s Importance for Labour

Francois Hollande’s rise to become French president and remove the centre-right administration of Nicolas Sarkozy was a big moment for Europe. Hollande’s accession marked the rejection of technocratic and conservative led recession in favour of a more equal, painless route out of Europe’s woes. Furthermore, Hollande’s triumph appeared to personify the anti-austerity tide sweeping across Europe from the streets of Athens, Dublin, London and Paris. The French elections symbolised the democratic wishes of the peoples of Europe to escape the bonds of austerity in favour of a growth-led recovery in the interests of the many not the few.

The initial triumph for Ed Miliband’s party therefore was simply the impending signs of a turning tide. The people of Europe had realised that it was leftist, growth supportive policies that would drive Europe out of recession not more and more cuts to vital services which starved the economy of oxygen. Hollande gave British Labour supporters a huge boost with his election, even if we have found his early days in office underwhelming. That is we have until four days ago, when Hollande unveiled his first budget, including his centrepiece policy: a super tax on the super-rich. From now on, the richest in French society will pay a tax rate of 75%. Whilst Ed Miliband has done some marvellous work in raising Labour’s ratings in the polls (even if his own are rather less satisfactory), it will be the results of Hollande’s super tax that could define whether Labour can be trusted with the British economy in 2015.

Ed Miliband has long been making moves against what he sees as predatory capitalists and the super-rich. Recently he announced plans to forcibly break up banks if they refused to do so themselves, whilst attacking the Tories watering-down of the Vicker’s report into banking practice. Furthermore, he has dedicated Labour to repealing the tax cut for the rich, which the Tories implemented in George Osborne’s budget, in the interests of fairness and to squeeze those who contributed to the financial crisis that has led to Britain’s terribly recessive economic period. These policies are controversial to say the least.

Whilst the public generally agree with Ed about the need to make Britain a more egalitarian and fair society, they fear that Labour, still blamed for the financial collapse of 2008, cannot be trusted with the economy. These fears are compounded by the Tories, although their economic credibility is dissolving gradually due to the double-dip recession. Another Tory argument, central to the idea of taxing the rich and squeezing the banks, is that if we squeeze the rich too hard they will simply pack up and leave, simply go on strike, in a scene reminiscent of one of Ayn Rand’s sauciest wet dreams. This is why Hollande will be key to Labour’s election chances.

Although the French economy is not based around a rich financial centre such as that in the City of London, the French nation has its fair share of the super-rich, people who will presumably become disgruntled by the notion of having their taxes raised to 75%. The key tests for the Labour party will be the tax receipts of the French treasury over the next couple of years and the number of rich who decide to leave French shores in search of a more generous tax deal.

The Tory argument that a Labour government will push away the banks, the rich, and their enterprises by squeezing them too hard is about to be tested across the Channel and if their arguments are proved wrong not only will the Tories look even less economically credible but they will suffer further humiliation. Furthermore, if Labour are right, Ed Miliband will once again be proved right on one of his main themes (remember Murdoch and the Leveson Inquiry). This would be a major boost to Miliband personally and Labour economic policy and credibility as a whole. The success of French policy could cement Labour’s chances of re-election and consign the Tories to a swift return to opposition. The advantage for Miliband is that, even if he is wrong, the consequences for him are much less severe.

Firstly, Miliband can still take the moral high ground. He would remain the politician who was backing the little people over the rich and powerful. He would still be the one standing up to the banks and their gambling practices. Plus he would still be right to demand the morally and ethically correct route even in the face of a wealth rebellion. After all, even if the wealthy threaten to leave, that would not make it right to simply cave in to their demands. Miliband cannot let himself to be seen selling his ethics away for the concern of money. The public will understand and appreciate this.

However, I really don’t see it going that far. The rich will not leave France on their yachts and private jets. Instead, the French people will be seen to be enjoying a fairer deal, where the rich pay their way and the poor are not used as sponges to be wrung dry so as to pay for a tax cut for the rich. Hollande may just have provided a huge boost to the British Labour Party’s chances of victory

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How Hollande can change Europe for the better

Francois Hollande was today sworn in as French president before heading to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to get to grips with Europe’s ailing economy. Up till this point, the Franco-German axis that has led the efforts to lead the eurozone out of the gloom of the recession has focussed on austerity and fiscal constraints and tightening. Before this point the leaders of the two countries were both centre-right politicians and Nicolas Sarkozy certainly did little to stand in the way of German efforts to bring the eurozone countries and economy to heel, imposing rigorous fiscal discipline on states that, in some cases, would be far better off out of the eurozone with the ability to control their own economy rather than be used as a toy of the Franco-German axis. Hopefully, with the advent of a new leader in France, Europe can begin to reverse the negativity of the centre-right governments that have dominated Europe and bring growth, fairness and equality to the continent.

The first step hollande needs to take in his new job is to let Merkel know that austerity will no longer be good enough for Europeans. An obvious failure to establish good, continuous growth following the recession has proven that the policies of the current European leaders regarding the European economy are not good enough, and hopefully Francois Hollande can bring to the table a more positive agenda for growth and lead the eurozone out of the economic quagmire it finds itself in. As part of this, Hollande must recognise that European governments need to invest in their countries and there is no way around this. Earlier this year, whilst the Dutch, Italian and German economies were contracting, the French economy experienced a 0.2% growth boosted mainly by exports. Hollande should pick up on this and rebalance Europe’s economies towards manufacturing and exporting products to the prosperous, large and rising economies in Asia and South America. The rejection of centre-right governments in votes across Europe should give Hollande the impetus and backing he needs to stand up to Merkel and replace austerity with a growth agenda.

Furthermore, Hollande must allow the weaker eurozone countries such as Greece to make as pain-free an exit from the Euro as possible, allowing the Greeks to balance their own books in their own way. The mixed election results in Greece and the inability of Greek leaders to form a coalition is worrying and Greece needs strong governance soon, but that governance must come from Greeks, not technocrats in Brussels. The Greek people will accept nothing else, as made clear by the lengthy demonstrations and rebellion against conservative policies in the country. The same case must be made for other eurozone countries such as Spain where the plight of the indignados has aroused much interest and points to a similar public anxiety with austerity as that exuding from Greece.

It is important therefore for Hollande to oppose Merkel’s wish for continued austerity in Europe as well as loosening the regulation imposed in countries from Brussels, allowing the masses to choose for themselves how their economies are run and by whom.

Another aspect to Hollande’s job will be to help bring success to other left-leaning parties across Europe in their next general elections. Voters across Europe will be keeping an eye on the progress made by Hollande and the French left, particularly concerning the economy, as a guide to how well social democratic policies can work for them. It is important that Hollande not only performs well in the French economy, but also on the domestic front, if Europe’s socialists are to again find themselves in the position of power and ascendency within Europe.

Finally, Hollande must seek to combat the far-right in France, where Marine Le Pen achieved surprisingly good results with her Front Nationale party, a xenophobic, anti-immigration, fascist-esque movement not dissimilar to far-right parties in the UK and Europe as a whole. Hollande must ensure that he eruditely and efficiently opposes the policies of the far-right and particular condemns Nicolas Sarkozy for attaching himself to Front Nationale policies in the final run-off in an attempt to gain far-right voters, a particularly dirty and disgraceful part of Sarkozy’s re-election bid.

Hollande therefore has a big job to fulfil on entering office and I hope for the sake of the European left that he is able to perform his duties in a capable and successful manner. It would certainly be disastrous for the economic policies of centre-left opposition parties in Europe were Hollande to fail to turn the tide of economic gloom descending over the eurozone.

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