Tuesday, 8 May 2012

French Drive To The Left.

He’s balding, wears glasses, and lacks a supermodel partner, so far, but Francois Hollande has two things that Nicolas Sarkozy might covet, the keys to the Elysee Palace, and a couple more inches in height. The former Mayor of Tulle underwent a mini make-over before his successful presidential campaign, finding a decent tailor, some designer glasses, and shedding some weight. And Hollande’s more streamlined physique could well be useful when walking the tightrope he has now embarked on.

His victory is a lurch to the left, and a protest vote against austerity, the unwanted offspring of the financial crisis, that France reluctantly adopted as an antidote to the debt and deficit. Hollande however, favours the borrow-and-build approach, believing government infrastructure projects will provide work for an unemployed population numbering around 10%. As the freed-up finances filter through the system, it is hoped that workers will start to spend, and so save the state. A simple sell to the waiting workforce perhaps, but Germany’s Chancellor Merkel will not want to rework the hard fought Fiscal Compact, to accommodate these new Gallic grievances. However, is it fair to say that Monsieur Hollande’s demands in that direction weakened palpably as his soaring popularity made presidential success more probable.

The next scheduled meeting of EU leaders is on the 23rd May, and the President-Elect’s pro-growth agenda may not be without its advocates. After all, Nicolas Sarkozy is the eleventh EU leader to lose his job since 2008, when Lehman Brothers went bang, and the rest of us started whimpering. Austerity is a bitter pill to swallow. If the symptoms we suffer are severe enough we may nod sagely and agree to the prescription, but ultimately when we don’t like the medicine we are likely to request a second opinion.

Back home, even Ed Miliband could not stop folk leaning back to Labour in the local council elections. Maybe if your Plan A is austerity, you had better have a back-up, as being right, in either sense, will be of little consolation when you’re back in opposition. On the other hand, while some are indeed turning to the left, there is no consistent political colour amongst the current victims of the austerity backlash. It may be less about political hue, and more about human nature. We will all acknowledge that we’ve over-spent, and the belt needs to be tightened, but when there’s no bourbon creams left in the tin, perhaps even the best intentioned will just vote for anyone who promises biscuits.    

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