By Tim Montgomerie
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Do you remember how Left-wingers greeted the election of François Hollande? Labour's spindoctors told everybody who'd listen that Ed Miliband was his best political friend. He was the Labour leader’s ideological bedfellow. The Miliband prototype. Finally, they argued, there was an alternative to Cameron and Merkel. Left-wing pundits were jubilant. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee claimed that “Labour gains from the triumph of the French Socialist leader with his intellectually cogent rallying cry for a new direction for Europe”. The Independent’s Owen Jones celebrated a “sudden sea change in European politics”. He claimed that “the great revolt” against austerity had begun.
Is it time for an update on this "great revolt"?
I have a go in my column for today's Times (£) and the Financial Times does so in its leader column.
"A new French president has never suffered such poor opinion poll ratings. Nicolas Sarkozy, the man the French electorate rejected, was seen as effective by 40 per cent of voters. Only 22 per cent think the same of his successor. Last year, France fell out of the top 20 competitive world economies. This demotion coincided with coalition-run Britain moving up two places to No 8. In 2013 Britain is set to overtake France to again become Europe’s second-largest economy. Our unemployment rate has fallen below 8 per cent while France’s rose for the 19th month in succession to more than 10 per cent. Remember the talk of a “Merkozy” economic creed? The continuity of French policy since the change of French government should, perhaps, be called Hollkozyism."
Here's the FT (£) looking at the economic picture (my emphasis):
"Initially France may have survived the global economic crisis better than others. The weaknesses are beginning to show, however. The country’s share of global trade is falling. Unemployment has shot past 10 per cent and is forecast to carry on rising. Companies are reluctant to invest, not just because of the sluggish economy but also because of the high cost of French labour. With public spending at 56 per cent of gross domestic product and debt of close to 90 per cent, Mr Hollande cannot stimulate the economy with more spending. Instead he needs to shrink the size of a state that is weighing on competitiveness."
France under Hollande was billed as the alternative great hope for Europe and the Left. It's early days but it looks as though the great hope is already almost dead. France's Socialists were elected on a lie – that austerity could be avoided with some super taxes on the rich. It's not true in Britain. It's not true in France. It's not even true in America. The reality in this age of austerity is clear…
"Electorates in the highly indebted West don’t face a choice between anti-austerity politicians and pro-austerity politicians. The real choice is between politicians who are willing to tell voters the truth and politicians who pretend that more than a decade of overborrowing can be wished away… Margaret Thatcher’s words were delivered at a different time, but are as relevant as ever: there is no alternative. Or, as Ed Miliband and his French ally need to learn, il n’y a pas d’alternative."
Read my full Times column (£).