Monday, October 22, 2012


France elected a socialist president in May and on September 28 his government delivered its budget for 2013 proclaimed as the “most important effort made for 30 years”. It has been praised because French President Francois Hollande with his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, have kept their deficit reduction pledges. Others have questioned the balance of taxes and spending and the over optimistic growth predictions.
France hasn’t balanced a budget since 1974 but Hollande and his team says it’s determined to see a reduction of the government’s budget deficit by three per cent in 2013. I asked Parti Socialiste MP Axelle Lemaire, who was elected for France’s new Northern European constituency in June – a constituency that includes the UK – for her take on the Hollande budget.
Eade: Francois Hollande was elected on a promise of promoting recovery by growth rather than cuts: if France misses its moderate growth target how will this be achieved?

Lemaire: The proposed 2013 budget, unveiled last week, lays on two principles: responsibility and jobs. When François Hollande took office in May, he asked for a general audit to the politically independent accounting body Cour des Comptes. Its conclusion was much worse than anticipated, unveiling a tremendous 30 billion Euro gap in the previous government's budget estimate. Fulfilling France's European commitments of deficit reduction was an imperative for François Hollande, as much as supporting the economy, jobs, and the French welfare state. To a large extent, this Budget is a difficult but realistic balance between deficit reduction and measures supporting employment and demand. The aim is to promote competitiveness and social fairness while asserting France’s fiscal responsibility and credibility. Growth comes with jobs, innovation and access to credit, three pillars of this Budget. 

Eade: The other promise was to create jobs: Laurence Parisot, of the Medef employers group says he fears this budget as it will damage competitiveness – so how will Hollande’s government create jobs?

Lemaire: It would be surprising to hear something different as this Budget asks for a contribution from everyone, particularly large companies and well-off households. However, the budget Minister insists that these contributions will be limited in time, to cope with this difficult economic situation. An improvement of the economic climate and access to credit is good for French companies. The government will support SMEs, one the largest job creators in the country, through various incentives. The creation of a Public Investment Bank devoted to investments in R&D, infrastructure projects and SMEs aims to boost France's competitiveness, a key condition to growth. Hollande's pledge to protect jobs despite limited margins finds concrete applications with the creation of 340,000 subsidised jobs, the construction of 100,000 social housings, a renewed effort in education with 60,000 new staff. Supporting demand, jobs and competitiveness in these very difficult times against austerity, cuts or a dismantlement of the welfare state - that’s the responsible pro-growth agenda that the government has chosen. 

Eade: The 75 per cent tax levy on those earning over one million euros appears to be more symbolic than raising any major amounts – millions rather than billions. Is it a “we are all in this together tax” and do you expect to have new high wealth French citizens as constituents as they flee France?

Lemaire: Yes, as a nation, we should face these tough times all together. Job losses destroy families. Paying higher taxes exclusively on salary income, for a predefined, exceptional amount of time, does not. Some understand this very well, and set the example. I pay tribute to them. For the rest, the problem is not tax exiles, but tax competition in Europe and particularly tax-havens. A stronger harmonization is needed. Job creation, innovation, competitiveness and fairness remain the main focus of our action.    

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 20 2012)

Friday, October 12, 2012


The Spain of today is in a deep financial crisis. Rather than the country pulling together it is pulling apart. The core of Spain, still less than a year since it returned a Partido Popular government, is in revolt against Rajoy and his policies.

In the autonomous regions that revolt has gone a stage further with a stronger desire than ever to see a break with Madrid. Recently the President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, met Rajoy in the Spanish capital determined to get a new deal for Cataluña. Not only did he leave empty handed he went straight back to Cataluña and announced a regional general election for November 25. This in essence will be a referendum on Cataluña’s links with Spain: but Mas has stated he will call an actual referendum in the next legislature on self-determination even though the State Government will not allow it.

At the weekend Mas spoke about a future independent Cataluña in the New York Times. He said his goal was for the Cataluña to take its place in a United States of Europe. He wants an independent Cataluña to be in the EU and Euro and points out the region will be 12 th out of the 27 countries in the EC on the basis of wealth.

Cataluña has an economy of 260,000 million euros which puts it on par with Portugal. An independent region would have a population of 7.5 million, meaning that Spain would loose 16 per cent of its residents in the process. Mas insists that Spain would not be insolvent without Cataluña but it would be more limited.

Under the Spanish Constitution Cataluña cannot hold a referendum to leave Spain. Neither can the Basque or any other region. However a constitution only holds good whilst it is accepted by the people. We have seen with the Arab Spring how by taking to the streets people have overturned governments and dictators. Make no mistake if the population of Cataluña, the Basque region, Galicia and other areas of Spain with their own distinct identity marched against the constitution and for independence Madrid would descend in to chaos: the Spanish State as we know it would cease to exist.

All of this is a very real possibility. The nation is already on the march against Rajoy and the Partido Popular because of his government’s handling of the economic crisis. They are angry at the high jobless levels especially amongst the young where it stands at over 52 per cent. On average 517 people lose their homes each day, 46,559 in the past three months. Since the economic crisis started over 185,140 have lost the roofs over their heads. During the same period the finance companies have issued 374,230 court proceedings over unpaid mortgages. There are savage cuts to education, hospitals and to the public services. The only people getting billions of euros in bail outs are the corrupt and abusive banks who are responsible for the chaos in the first place. Add to that the widely held belief in Cataluña that the region is being unfairly discriminated against which fuels further the demand for its independence. Stir in the Basques, Galicians and other regions and you have an explosive mix.

To this has to be added the recent call by the socialist president of Andalucía, José Antonio Griñán, for a federal Spain. Speaking on Europa Press Televisión, Griñán called for the development of a federal Spain, co-operative, where all are equal before the law and at the same time full respect is shown for the nation’s diversity.

The Andalucía leader stated “I think that the Constitution, that is the fruit of consensus, is the road and the solution to our problems as well.” He wants to see the country’s Magna Cart changed so it now meets the realities of present day Spain as it did when it was first drawn up.

Griñán said Spain had the opportunity to construct a nation of autonomous regions, for a phase of co-operation that will lead directly to a federal model based on the objective of a place for all, where employment is the priority and which gives hope to all. Griñán’s party leader, the secretary general of PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who was the former Minister of the Interior, has also spoken since in favour of a federal model for Spain in line with that found in Germany. He pointed out he leads a federated party, why can’t there be a federated nation?

Whilst the radical Catalans and Basques want full on independence Griñán’s call is for a Spanish federation of independent regions. Needless to say both of these visions have the Partido Popular in panic because it is a centralist party and rather than cede power it would rather disband the regions with control returning to Madrid as in the days of Franco.

Recently the president of the Basque party, the PNV, and its candidate for Lehendakari (leader of the Basque Parliament), Iñigo Urkullu, made some startling comments. He believes that after the Rajoy Government has taken action over adjusting the nation’s budgets it will move to re-centralise Spain. If indeed he is correct and Rajoy takes back powers from the autonomous regions, from the Basques, the Catalans, the Galicians and indeed the people of Andalucía he will be returning Spain to a nation on the Franco model. Such actions would cause violent protests in Spain and would almost certainly see ETA take up its arms again - without wanting to be alarmist we could be on the verge of a major revolt against Madrid: certainly civil disobedience but one hopes and prays not civil war.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 11 2012).

Monday, October 8, 2012


“That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”

You would have to be begrudging in the extreme not to acknowledge that Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party Conference on Tuesday was not one of the most remarkable of modern times. He had to speak both to party and nation to convince them both he has what it takes to be Prime Minister. In an hour long speech, without notes or prompts, he delivered that message without a hitch.

During his discourse Ed mentioned another speech made 140 years ago in Manchester close to where he was speaking. It was Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s “One Nation” speech. “One Nation” conservatives believe societies exist and develop organically, and that members within them have obligations towards each other. In my formative years in the 1950s and 60s “One Nation” Tories were the norm.

Today that is not the case. When Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said “we are all in this together” he wasn’t talking to the nation but his millionaire colleagues around the Cabinet table as he promised them a forty thousand pound tax rebate to be paid for by the country’s pensioners. In capturing the “One Nation” concept for Labour Ed has stolen the Conservatives’ clothes they wrap themselves in when wanting to deceive the voters in to believing they are not the “nasty party”.

However it is not the Disraeli speech I want to dwell on here but one delivered towards the end of the 2010 General Election campaign. I will quote from Rowenna Davis’ excellent book “Tangled Up in Blue”. Here she writes about Maurice Glasman who has been trying to persuade the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to address a London Citizens assembly shortly before polling day.

“In a moment of frenzied passion, Glasman wrote all the words he wished Brown would say. It was a speech grounded in the Citizens UK tradition – it was about Brown’s personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It went right through Brown’s campaign as a student to get a decent wage for university cleaners to the introduction of a minimum working wage during his time as chancellor. It talked about his role in pressuring authorities to disinvest in apartheid South Africa, and the power of the people. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine. And it was sent directly from Glasman to Ed Miliband’s inbox three days before the assembly was due to take place.”

Well Glasman, with Ed Miliband’s help, did persuade Brown to make the speech and although some changes were made in essence it remained in the Citizens UK tradition. Such was the power of the speech that although Brown’s back was against the wall his popularity shot up six percent. Coincidently in the initial days after Miliband delivered his leader’s speech on Tuesday six percent more British voters believed he was prime ministerial than before.

At the time of writing Brown’s speech Glasman, who was not close to the Prime Minister, was associated with the “Blue Labour” movement. The title “Blue Labour” has now fallen by the way side but if the adherents to that philosophy had to choose a new name “One Nation” would do very nicely.

In contrast to Brown, Ed Miliband has remained close to Glasman and made him a Lord in February 2011. Hence the university political professor has become a professional politician but there are many voices crying out to be heard by the Labour Party leader and it isn’t always Glasman who has his ear.

However if there is one word in the Miliband speech de force that convinces me Glasman had some input it is the word “Faith”. Glasman was Director of London Metropolitan University’s “Faith and Citizenship programme”.  “Faith” is a word Miliband highlighted time and again.

“Hold on a minute” you might say, “Miliband is a confirmed atheist, as was his father, as is his brother. How can he have faith?”

I have long argued in print that atheists, as with people of religion who truly believe in their God, are all people of faith. The truth is until we die we do not know if God exists or not. The act of faith is to say when there is no certainty “there is no God”. Hence Miliband is fully entitled to speak of his faith and indeed he based his entire speech on it.

Here are just three examples: “But I do believe the best way me for to give back to Britain, the best way to be true to my faith, is through politics…..That is who I am. That is what I believe. That is my faith……And I know who I need to serve in Britain with my faith. It’s the people I’ve met on my journey as Leader of the Opposition.”

Rowenna Davis tells us that Glasman’s Brown speech was about his personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine.

Miliband in his speech said: “I want to tell you my story. I want to tell you who I am. What I believe. And why I have a deep conviction that together we can change this country. My conviction is rooted in my family’s story, a story that starts 1,000 miles from here, because the Miliband’s haven’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years.” He closed with: “That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”

I am sure Rowenna Davis would use the exactly same words to describe Miliband’s speech as she did for Brown’s – and what’s more, they would be true.

PS: Benjamin Disraeli was Britain’s only Jewish Prime Minister. If Ed Miliband is elected to that high office he will be the second.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on October 7 2012)