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The New Precedent of the French Republic

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In the wake of the post-budget "omnishambles" and a "disappointing" slide back into recession, the Conservative Party has not only plummeted in the polls but has also been divided by accusations of arrogance and elitism directed towards David Cameron and George Osborne. In response to this it appears the prime minister is willing to appease the backbench detractors in his own party by putting off moves to legalise gay marriage and reform the House of Lords. George Osborne said this was because they wanted to concentrate solely on the economy, as if we have a government incapable of rubbing its belly and patting its head at the same time.

On its own, a political retreat might simply seem like a cowardly move, especially from the leader of the Iron Lady's old party, but on a wider perspective, pandering to the right could be politically disastrous. After all, if the recent local elections have proved anything, it's a lack of public confidence and support for the government's extensive programme of cuts to public services. And now it's become clear that Britain is not alone in its resentment of austerity.

Across the Channel, the socialist candidate Francois Hollande has stormed to victory by positioning himself firmly against government frugality, while Nicolas Sarkozy desperately attempted to woo the support of those on both the cultural and economic far right in a pathetic attempt to remain in power. Hollande has been branded a moderate but despite the eurozone crisis he has promised to employ and extra 60,000 teachers and has pledged to tax French millionaires at a rate of 75%. During the television debate prior to the national vote, Hollande clarified his position by turning to Sarkozy and saying, "I protect the children of the republic, you protect the privileged". Not only did this comment catch the mood of the French public but it also seems to reflect the attitude of both the British public and a few Tory backbenchers and this is why the British Labour Party would do well to follow suit, now.

It seems likely that the Tory cabinet will this week exacerbate their 'out of touch' image by using the Queen's Speech to reaffirm an economic policy that has driven the country back into recession (despite it unpopularity) while intentionally neglecting gay marriage and Lords reform. For this reason Labour must present themselves as a credible and substantive alternative to the coalition. As it stands they are the least unpopular of the three main parties and that simply isn't good enough, because even if the British public elect a Miliband simply for not being David Cameron, a new empty suit will do nothing to inspire a much needed wave of economic and public confidence.

The deterioration of support for the coalition coupled with the elections in France and Greece has shown that voters throughout Europe are developing a new appetite for government investment. Even across the Atlantic Barack Obama is framing the upcoming presidential election as a choice between investment and austerity. This is quite remarkable considering that only two years ago Gordon Brown was voted out of office after campaigning on the same message. Now it seems the feelings of European voters are changing, probably because austerity simply hasn't worked anywhere.

In Britain we have found ourselves in a strange place where, as Rafalel Behr has pointed out in the New Statesman, the Tories and LibDems appear to be losing but Labour isn't winning. They have been quick to oppose many of the cuts, the increase in tuition fees and the unpopular re-organisation of the NHS but they have been reluctant to promise a repeal of any of them. Now we know that the widespread discontent with the 'cut the state and watch the growth' mentality of the right, can be tapped into for political gain. Ed Miliband can now stand up with confidence and tell us how he would invest in the economy and how it would help while asserting a message that if Cameron is too scared to deliver on gay marriage and Lords reform then he will. Because while the Conservatives seem to be ideologically handcuffed to the failed economic policies of the past, Labour are free to redefine themselves as a party that is in touch with people in both Britain and Europe. But if the relative success of Obama's growth plan and the ascent of Francois Hollande don't inspire Labour to breakaway from its economic caution, what will?

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