If you want to know what a Miliband government would be like, then look across the Channel to the Presidency of the hapless Francois Hollande. That, at least, is what just about every British rightwing commentator reckons – and probably with good reason.
However, I hope that they’re paying close attention to the latest developments in Paris, because they show how a British Labour government might react if it gets into serious trouble.
In an essential briefing for Foreign Policy, Robert Zaretsky charts the rise of the new French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Born in Spain, Valls is, by French standards, “mildly pro-business and anti-statist.” Certainly it makes him an odd man out in the French Socialist Party:
“The party, he announced during an interview in 2009, had to change its direction, methods, program and even its name – although to what, he did not say. While the conservatives gloated, the Socialists glared: The party’s leader, Martine Aubry, the architect of the 35-hour work week and leader of the traditionalist wing, invited Valls to quit a party in which he clearly felt so ill at ease.”
That Valls is now Prime Minister is testament to Hollande’s desperation:
“In the second round of municipal elections last month, the ruling Socialists lost control of 151 cities — a pounding even greater than the one François Mitterrand’s Socialists absorbed in 1983. As more than one commentator observed, it was a veritable Battle of Berezina for the Socialist Party.”
The party’s traditional working class base is deserting to Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which is currently topping the polls, while the Socialists languish in third place.
It is arguably this factor that has given the new Prime Minister his big chance, because while Valls resembles Tony Blair on economic issues, on other matters he is something of a French Nigel Farage:
“As Hollande’s minister of the interior, Valls won notoriety for his severe stance on immigration, particularly in regard to France’s Roma population. Valls ordered the dismantling of several of Roma camps and the deportation to Romania of hundreds of families, all the while declaring that the Roma have a ‘vocation’ to return to their native lands. Many on the left denounced his policies, declaring that he was playing the very same race card that Sarkozy had with such success.”
His fellow Socialists might not like that sort of thing, but it’s going down well with the French electorate. While the President has an approval rating of less than twenty per cent, “nearly 60 percent have a favorable opinion of Valls.”
In Britain, one could easily see a Labour Government get into the same sort of trouble as its French counterpart. Whoever governs after the next election will have to make further deep cuts in public spending. Labour would no doubt try to raise more money through punitive taxation of the wealthy and not-so-wealthy, but, as in France, they’d end up implementing austerity measures anyway.
While the Conservative Party is likely to be in disarray following an electoral defeat, UKIP is getting ready to capitalise on any sense of betrayal among Labour voters. In such threatening circumstances, the Labour leadership would be sorely tempted to resort to populist measures of their own. They do, after all, have form in this regard – as when Gordon Brown promised “British jobs for British workers.”
Of course, it would be hard see Prime Minister Miliband getting away with such a shift in policy and attitude. But there’s another former advisor to Gordon Brown who’d make a better fist of it. A bit of a bruiser who doesn’t mind toughing it out on populist issues when it suits his purposes.
It’s by no means a perfect translation from the original French, but for Valls read Balls.