Hope

11th June 2017

Hope

The outcome of the UK General Election has left the media and the Conservative Party baffled. How could it be the case that a snap election, called to bolster Theresa May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, has resulted in the Tories losing their majority in the House of Commons? How is it that as a result the Tories will be reliant upon confidence and supply arrangements with the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the political wing of loyalist paramilitary thugs, to get any legislation through?

There is a school of Tory thought that May simply fought a bad campaign. That with a better ‘performer’ the Tories would not have suffered such a major setback. May’s brittleness on TV, inflexibility under questioning and her inability to engage with anyone other than handpicked Tory stalwarts certainly played a part. It is no doubt soothing to the Tory ego to believe that these are the main factors in their remarkable collapse in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This belief will soothe Tories further over the summer, when they persuade themselves that, having allowed Theresa May to stay in No 10 for a respectable period of time, they will need to move her out for an alternative candidate. A new Tory leader could not do any worse, could they? Based on the premise that this election was purely down to the personalities of the candidates, this Tory daydream may have some merits. The Theresa May brand was all over the election campaign, with its now wholly ironic ‘strong and stable’ slogan, with any mention of the Conservative Party reduced to the small print.

For those Tories who think that a better ‘brand’ of leader will be the answer to their troubles there is likely to be more grief ahead. The May brand undoubtedly became more toxic as the campaign progressed. The greater focus there was upon personality, the less points May scored. However, the real turning point in the campaign was not the focus upon personality but the launch, preceded by the advance leaking, of the Labour manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few.

The Tory spin machine had fallen victim to the line pedalled by their cohorts in the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express, that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was on the brink of meltdown. May’s Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, persuaded her that a snap election would catch the Opposition on the hop and that all indicators suggested that a landslide was on the cards. Timothy and Hill are both now looking for other employment, having been forced to resign.

Their miscalculation was twofold. Firstly, they calculated that May could outperform Corbyn with the media. Repeating the mantra that she would provide ‘strong and stable government’ in order to lead the UK in Brexit negotiations, was deemed sufficient to keep on board what was regarded as a largely compliant nation. The fact that the referendum outcome itself was tight and that only 37% of those eligible to vote, voted for Brexit, should have sent out some warning signals.

Corbyn, on the other hand, did not engage in repeating ready made formulas. He engaged with the issues. He outlined the concerns of much of the country that the NHS was underfunded, that housing was at crisis levels, both for those renting and first time buyers. Corbyn identified the crisis in the jobs and training regime in the UK, which requires so many highly skilled jobs to be offered to overseas candidates, as one which needs to be addressed. Corbyn tapped into the fact that, after seven years of austerity, the majority of the population have had enough of paying off the gambling debts of the bankers and need a positive message of hope for the future.

The second miscalculation of May’s handlers was that the policies which Corbyn was articulating would have no appeal. The publication of For the Many, Not the Few brought together the key issues Corbyn had already touched upon and codified them into a costed programme, which could move beyond the arid politics of austerity. The issue in the election was not just about May’s inability to sell the Tory message but that she actually had nothing to sell. More austerity was hardly a vote winner and for most people Brexit was too abstract to be a real factor in the election. However, put the case for jobs, health, education and homes in front of people, as Labour did, and they can understand that. They can see a package of proposals that addresses the real issues that affect them on a day to day basis. They can see a set of proposals that offers hope.

Combined with a political leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who has stood for these values, principles and policies throughout his political career, who is not prepared to be diverted according to whichever way the wind blows and you have a factor in politics which the right wing media and May’s spin doctors could neither understand nor handle.

The DUP, apart from their history of supporting terror against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, are anti-abortion, against gay marriage and are climate change sceptics. They are essentially a Protestant sect, borne out of the particular configuration of politics in the six counties of Ireland annexed by Britain, in order to prop up the fiction of the so-called United Kingdom. A United Ireland would not even see the DUP in Westminster at all. If there was ever a time to reach for the phrase that ‘the tail will be wagging the dog’ then this is it.

Labour are preparing an alternative Queen’s Speech, based upon their manifesto and the expectations of much of the population. It will be interesting to compare with what a Tory/DUP alliance comes up with. There is no doubt that hope will be at the heart of the Labour alternative. If the Tories have learnt anything, they will have to offer some additional funding for the NHS, the police and social care. In short, they will have to steal Labour’s clothes, a tactic most people will see through.

The General Election date may have passed but the job is still only half done. Theresa May and the Tories are wounded but not yet dead. The job is to finish them off. The struggle continues.

 

Running Scared

4th June 2017

May statement_image

Photo: Theresa May talks tough but says little

The latest terrorist murders in London have resulted in justifiable expressions of outrage from all political parties and resulted in a further suspension of general election campaigning until tomorrow.

In response to the latest outrage UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, offered a four pronged approach to the issue of tackling terrorism.  She suggested defeating the ideology, which preached terror and hate, winning hearts and minds to “pluralistic, British values”.  She suggested that international co-operation to regulate cyberspace was vital.  She suggested that “we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.”

A further element of May’s approach is worth quoting in full, as it plays to a mentality that will not only oppose extremism but opposes anything or anyone who is in any way different.  She said,

“..while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world.  Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  But it also means taking action here at home.  While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.

So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society.  That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.”

Quite what May means when she states that there is “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country” is the first point here.  Who tolerated the stabbing of a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament and the killing of innocent civilians on Westminster Bridge in March?  Who has tolerated the murders of 22 innocent people at Manchester Arena last week?  Who is tolerating the stabbings on London Bridge and Borough Market last night, resulting in another seven deaths?

Apart from a few hard core Islamic fundamentalists there is no evidence that anyone across the UK, whatever their race, creed or religion, is tolerant of such extremism.  People of all faiths and none, people of all political persuasions, have united in condemning such actions and condemning extremism of this nature.

Community cohesion is certainly one of the keys to counter terrorism but it has to be a cohesion based upon mutual respect and understanding.  There are a multiplicity of different communities in the UK some of which have become “segregated”, to use May’s phrase, some of which may as a result become prey to extremist ideology.  May’s inference is that those communities are all Muslim but Irish Catholics could be characterised in the same way, Scottish nationalists, Welsh speakers, the disaffected white working class, for example.  Where does it end?

May’s appeal to “one truly United Kingdom” is a pipe dream to play to the Daily Mail readers of Middle England, as a decisive General Election victory slips further from her grasp.  The real issue is that the bigotry, which is an overt part of the UKIP programme, is only just beneath the surface of May’s remarks and the whole tone of the Conservative Party approach.

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has called upon all communities to come together, emphasising that

“Our strength is the strength of our community unity.  That was shown in Manchester straight after the horrible event there and it will be exactly the same in London.”

Corbyn has already called for a wider review of the entire foreign policy approach of the UK, in particular to end wars of aggression in the Middle East, and to adopt a more holistic approach to the threat of fundamentalist terrorism.  The bigots in the right wing press and media will caricature this as ‘weak’ and no doubt applaud Theresa May’s call to “say enough is enough.”

However, tough talk, empty rhetoric and a foreign policy tied to the apron strings of the United States and NATO are what have brought us here today.  It is not working, it is time for us all to say “enough is enough.”

Thursday, 8th June presents us all with the opportunity to make that statement loud and clear.  There can be no excuses.  On every level from personal, public to foreign policy the Labour programme lays out clear alternatives.  It offers a vision of a society which offers hope, aims to work towards the resolution of differences and is based upon mutual respect and understanding.

The Tories are running scared because they have nothing new.  They are falling back upon the same old tired ideas of more austerity for the many, more tax cuts for the few and more ways to sound tough, while not keeping the country safe.  Those who do not vote Labour on Thursday, deserve everything they get if Theresa May is back in Downing Street on Friday.

 

Tory cynics exploit Manchester murders

27th May 2017

MayTrump

Partners in Crime: Theresa May talks with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy 

It was inevitable that the Tories would, in their ususal cynical way, attempt to gain political advantage from the murder of twenty two people at Manchester Arena earlier this week.  The suspension of political campaigning in the General Election has allowed Theresa May, as Prime Minister, an almost free run in the media to express horror and outrage at the murders.  A G7 summit in Italy this week also gave May a further platform on which to strut on the international stage and garner more media headlines.

Not content with this, with the resumption of campaigning yesterday May, and her key Tory henchmen, have launched an extraordinary attack upon Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for suggesting that UK foreign policy ought to be part of the debate around how to address the prevention of future attacks.

Corbyn was quite clear in an interview with Andrew Neil, when he said yesterday,

“The attack on Manchester was shocking, appalling, indefensible, wrong in every possible way.  The parallel that I was drawing this morning was that a number of people ever since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn attention to the links with foreign policy, including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5, and of course the foreign affairs select committee.”

Corbyn made it clear that the UK interventions had contributed to the creation of “huge ungoverned spaces” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

That those spaces have fuelled the rise of al-Qaeda, Islamic State and contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East cannot be denied.  The unravelling of the Western imposition of borders from 1916 onwards and a policy of supporting a succession of Western leaning dictators across the region, was never going to be easily managed away.  The fact that it has fallen apart so spectacularly is a reflection of the arrogance of Western foreign policy, in assuming that the leaders of the capitalist world could continue to impose leaders in their own image upon the nations of the Middle East.

The people of those countries have, not surprisingly, wanted to choose their own leaders.  However, the exploitation of those countries over the decades by the West has fuelled the rise of fundamentalist politics as the alternative, with devastating consequences.

Western policy has struck a rock in Syria, with the resistance to external intervention by the Assad government continuing to hold off a coalition of US and UK forces, aided by a range of Arab dictators and Islamic State, circling like vultures to carve up the remains of Syria.  The impact upon the Syrian people has been devastating, the migrant crisis which has resulted from the war in Syria continues to impact upon European borders and there can be little doubt that the whole adventure is a foreign policy disaster.

When Jeremy Corbyn suggests that the war on terror is not working these are the realities that he is drawing attention to.  The calamity in Syria did not just happen of its own volition; the migrant crisis did not happen by accident.  These consequences are all tied up with foreign policy choices and actions.  To make this point, to raise this question, is not to be ‘soft’ on terrorism or in any way attempt to justify the actions of those who engaged in murder in Manchester this week.

So, for Theresa May to respond to Corbyn’s comments with such vitriol is either a sign of wilful misunderstanding or an inability to grasp the complexities of international policy.  It could simply be an attempt to muddy the waters in order to reinforce the ‘strong and stable’ message with those voters who will be swayed by the headlines of the right wing tabloids.  In a press conference at the end of the G7 summit May said,

“I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism.  At the same time Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault and he has chosen to do that a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom and I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

Later in the day Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, jumped on the bandwagon with a flurry of trademark rhetorical bluster, stating that it was,

“…absolutely extraordinary and inexplicable in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or to legitimate the actions of the terrorists in this way.”

There is no attempt by the Tories to offer any way of addressing the problems of international terrorism, or any hint that considering the bigger foreign policy picture should be part of the debate.  These are not the actions of serious politicians who want to seriously address the issues facing the people of their country.  They are merely the rhetorical rantings of a narrow class wanting to hang onto and defend their privileges.

Behind the Tory cynicism is one crucial reality.  Their campaign is not working.  Labour is gaining in the polls.  The past week has been a hiatus that the Tories are cynically attempting to turn to their advantage.  There is little time left before the 8th June.  We must use that time to make sure that it is still time enough for voters to see through the Tory smokescreen.  The people of Manchester deserve better; the people of the UK deserve better.

Iranian elections – no chance for change

21st May 2017

Rouhani-victory

Heralded as a reformer by certain sections of the Western press, re-elected Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani (pictured), has spent four years in office without doing a thing to improve the human rights record of the Iranian regime.  Rouhani has done nothing to support the development of trade unions or advance the position of women in Iranian society.  His neo-liberal economic policies have seen inflation rampant while unemployment has soared.

In spite of this, following the outcome of the 19th May elections in Iran, Rouhani has secured a further four years in office.  He did not be stand on a platform of extending the misery of the Iranian people, though this is a likely outcome, but as the man who delivered an end to international sanctions through the 5+1 deal with the United States and European Union.  The deal, whereby international sanctions will be softened in exchange for Iran accepting strict controls on its nuclear energy programme, was barely bedded in when the US electorate returned Donald Trump as president.

Trump has been a vociferous opponent of the deal with Iran and, if his foreign policy concerns were not already overburdened, with airstrikes on Syria, bombing Afghanistan and the developing face off with North Korea, rewriting the terms of the deal may have been further up his agenda.  Which is not to say that Trump will not return to the subject of Iran, no doubt he will.  It is likely to form part of the discussions in his current visit to Saudi Arabia.  Rouhani’s second term may well be shaped by how he deals with the US president over the next four years.

The more conservative elements in the clergy fielded little known Ayotollah Ebrahim Raisi as their election candidate.  Regarded by many as a likely successor to Khamenei, but lacking political experience, the presidency was seen as a possible route to paving the way for Raisi to take over as Supreme Leader.  With Khamenei rumoured to be in the advanced stages of prostate cancer the need to locate a successor may come sooner than anticipated.

Raisi as a candidate was however problematic for the regime, bringing his own baggage.  Although little known as a politician, he does have a reputation as a ‘hanging judge’, particularly in relation to the massacre of thousands of the regime’s opponents in an especially brutal episode in 1988.  The commemoration of the executions, known as the national catastrophe, is a significant event, taking place each September in Iran, and Raisi’s role is well known.

Rouhani securing a second term is based on the fact that the Iranian leadership want to continue the normalisation of diplomatic relations and cooperation with the EU and US.  They want to see the sanctions lifted and thus remove an immediate existential threat to the survival of the regime.  A Rouhani administration is considered to be a grouping of mainly able technocrats, many educated in the UK and US, who are best placed to oversee this process of detente.  The attitude of the Trump administration remains a potential barrier to this strategy.

One certainty is that there is little hope in prospect for the Iranian people from the election outcome.  Negotiations with the government have been ongoing for some time in order to set a national minimum wage, based upon an agreed basket of goods and services.  Over the last year the cost of the basket of goods and services that could provide an acceptable living standard for workers has, according to the National Statistical Centre, risen from $863 to $924 monthly.

The government committee setting the minimum wage in March determined the rate for the current financial year at $287, based on the argument that the employers and the government were not prepared to accept an increase of more than 14.5% on the previous year’s figure.  The basis of the decision was the official inflation rate.  The employers have said that they will not consider a higher rate, in spite of the fact that the official rate of inflation is widely accepted as being well below the actual rate in the economy.  So, Iranian workers will be condemned to another year of poverty.

The regime has been trying to open the labour market to foreign capital.  They argue that the Iranian worker is educated, skilled and is cheapest in comparison with similar countries.  However, the labour law, one of the few legal protections for Iranian workers, is an obstacle to inward investment as far as the government is concerned.

Since his election to the presidency in June 2013 Hassan Rouhani’s government has attempted to persuade the parliament to change the law.  Trade unions and workers organisations organised a mass demonstration outside the parliament on 15th November as the law makers were due to start their work.  Under pressure the parliament sent back the proposed legislation to the government.  However, given the outcome of the presidential election, there can be little doubt that the government will once again try to reverse one of the few legal protections afforded to Iranian workers.

The rate of unemployment is a significant factor in generating discontent amongst the people of Iran and in particular the younger population.  While education outcomes remain generally positive in the country the likelihood of finding gainful employment is clearly diminishing.

International factors have no doubt played some part in determining the outcome of elections in Iran.  It may be however, that internal factors will yet play a significant role, as protests against the government become an increasing feature of Iranian politics following the election outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the many, not the few

Corbyn manifesto

 Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn – thumbs up for a radical manifesto

13th May 2017

The leaking of a draft of the Labour Party manifesto has been the main focus of media interest this week. Much BBC time has inevitably been taken up by the source of the leak and the divisions within the Party that this illustrates. Fuel to the ongoing BBC narrative. The real news however is that Labour have come up with a manifesto which puts before the British people the most radical programme for change in a generation.

Whatever the source of the leak, or the BBC spin put upon it, the raft of changes proposed by Labour should be the main message which emerges from the manifesto, which was confirmed at a Labour National Executive meeting on Friday.

While the manifesto will be formally launched next Tuesday it is already clear that Labour will set out some key promises including:-

  • The abolition of university tuition fees
  • A boost to infrastructure investment
  • Renationalisation of the railways
  • Increase in the minimum wage to £10 per hour
  • The creation of local energy providers
  • New Council house building
  • Investment in the NHS
  • Investment in school budgets
  • A comprehensive defence review

The main source of funding will be from an increase in corporation tax to 26%, from its current tax haven level of 17%, way below the European average. Further tax on the top 5% of earners will also help spread the cost of funding public services more fairly and shift the burden from the poor to those most able to pay. Commenting on the manifesto after the meeting Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn said,

“Our manifesto will be an offer and we believe the policies in it are very popular – an offer that will transform the lives of many people in our society and ensure that we have a government in Britain on 8th June that will work for the many, not the few, and give everyone in our society a decent opportunity and a decent chance, so nobody’s ignored, nobody’s forgotten and nobody’s left behind.”

The Tories and the usual media outlets have wasted no time in attempting to trash the Labour programme, with a particular emphasis upon defence. In spite of Labour policy being in favour of the renewal of Trident, a significant weak spot in the programme, the media continue to press about Corbyn’s personal antipathy to the use of nuclear weapons. Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has even gone as far as to suggest that Corbyn is a pacifist, an allegation which Corbyn refutes and one for which there is no substantive evidence.

As Corbyn himself has pointed out however, if thinking twice about the indiscriminate destruction of the lives of millions of people and the destruction of large parts of the planet because of pushing the nuclear button is an issue, then he would think twice.

The dynamism and hope of the Labour programme contrasts sharply with the colourless and anodyne approach of the Tories. Hoping that the “strong and stable” leadership of Theresa May is their best bet, the Tories are stacking all of their eggs in that particular basket, attempting to run a presidential style campaign focussing on personality rather than policy options.

May’s lack of personality and her inability to think on her feet under questioning may yet undermine the Tories approach. However, they will hope that the media focus on the character assassination of Corbyn will prove enough of a distraction to take the spotlight from the evident weaknesses of their own candidate. So far the Tory campaign has been significantly policy light, with “strong and stable” leadership being their main focus and delivering on Brexit their main objective.

Labour’s best platform in decades is not helped by anti-Corbyn elements such as Ben Bradshaw suggesting that the focus of the campaign should be to ensure as strong an opposition as possible, or Deputy Leader Tom Watson suggesting that May is heading for a Thatcher style landslide.

The official launch of the manifesto next week should be the focus for a united push to unseat the Tories and give Labour a chance to begin the process of putting the UK on a different path, one which truly will benefit the many, not the few.

 

Make sure the people prevail

23rd April 2017

CorbynRally 

Photo: Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour’s election campaign

Ironically, the snap UK General Election called by Prime Minister, Theresa May, last week seems to have caught everyone off guard, except the Labour Party leadership.  In a series of eye catching policy announcements Jeremy Corbyn had already outlined Labour’s position on a range of issues from free schools meals to housing, transport policy to the arts, the NHS to the environment.  An emerging manifesto, just at the right time.

http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/policies

Corbyn has never equivocated on any of the issues which will no doubt form part of the manifesto once finalised.  An avowed internationalist, peace campaigner and advocate of the rights of the working class, against those of the rich and the monopolies, there is no question that Corbyn will make a strong pitch to put the needs of working people at the heart of Labour’s election campaign.  In his first speech of the campaign Corbyn made clear the scale of the challenge for Labour,

“It’s the establishment versus the people, and it’s our job to make sure the people prevail.”

The extent to which the Labour campaign will be about those on the outside attempting to break the mould of UK politics was further reinforced when Corbyn emphasised the scale of the task faced in tackling both the political establishment and the UK media,

“It is the establishment that complains I don’t play by the rules: by which they mean their rules.  We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.

“And in a sense, the establishment and their followers in the media are quite right.  I don’t play by their rules.  And if a Labour Government is elected on 8th June, then we won’t play by their rules either!”

In one sense, this is an election that Corbyn cannot lose.  After two years of a war of attrition against the backstabbers inside the Labour Party he finally has the chance to cut loose and put a progressive programme in front of the British people.  As Brian Topping, North Shields succinctly puts it in recent correspondence to the Morning Star,

“For the first time in a generation the Left faces a general election which is not only about keeping the Tories out but is also a campaign for a socialist alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn’s “not playing by their rules” speech may not be a socialist programme but it is in every sense a call for fundamental progressive change.  If the Tories are defeated and Corbyn’s approach implemented, mobilization for socialist advance will be on the cards.”

For this generation in the Labour Movement the 2017 General Election is, in many senses, their Miner’s Strike moment.  The historic 1984/85 strike for pits, jobs and communities had the establishment and the media ranged against it.  All the forces of the state were either deployed during the strike, or ready to intervene should the NUM have been victorious.  So far, so predictable.

The real Achilles heel for the NUM however was the weakness and vacillation of sections of the Labour Movement and, in particular, the leadership of the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock.  When the battle was truly joined, and a chance presented itself to inflict a blow against the British ruling class, many on the Labour side not only went missing in action but actively collaborated to undermine the NUM and its leadership.

It may not be politic of Corbyn to say so publicly, as he seeks to maximise Party unity in the campaign period, but he will know that he is facing the same struggle.  Backstabbers in some constituencies have already said they will stand down, in an attempt to create an air of crisis.  All the better for those prepared to take up the fight and provide the bottle needed in the event of a Labour victory.

The Tory line that without Theresa May in No.10 all that will be left is a “coalition of chaos”, constituting the Labour Party and SNP, was trotted out early on and will no doubt be a constant refrain throughout the campaign.  Corbyn’s leadership credentials will be the subject of rigorous vilification and contrasted, no doubt with BBC collusion, with the more ‘statesmanlike’ Theresa May, who will be playing by the correct rules!

However, as Ronan Bennett pointed out last September (The Guardian 16/09/16) Corbyn has shown clear leadership on all of the key questions of the past thirty years.  Corbyn voted against the bombing of Libya, which has resulted in disaster in that country.  Corbyn voted against the deployment of UK air power over Syria, he voted against the disastrous intervention in Iraq in 2003.  As Bennett quite rightly states,

“It is all very well to say, years after the event, that you believed the prime minister when he said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that bombing Gaddafi would bring peace and democracy to Libya.  But what counts is what you do in the moment.  What counts is where your vote goes.  That’s when you get the chance to make the right decision.”

Leadership is not an issue for Corbyn.  He has shown leadership and can stick to his principles.  The issue is for his opponents.  A victory for Corbyn might just make life uncomfortable for them.  That, not their new found love of the people, is their real concern.

 

 

 

 

Mélenchon – a step forward

17th April 2017

melenchon-2017

 Photo: Jean Luc Mélenchon – offering hope for France?

The upsurge in support for left-wing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the French presidential election, is an illustration of the fact that so called populism is not the preserve of the right-wing.  In many polls the race is too close to call, with four candidates positioned to be in the final two on 7th May, when first round voting is concluded on 23rd April.  Not long ago the contest was regarded as a straight battle between variations on the right, involving official Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon and far right demagogue, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

The ground first shifted with the rise of centrist, Emmanual Macron, and his self styled En Marche! movement, initially popular with the middle classes as a pro-EU alternative to Le Pen but increasingly looking like a victory of style over substance.  Macron benefitted from the Fillon campaign having to fight a financial scandal and for a while looked like the best option to stop Le Pen.  A recent Le Monde poll however shows support for Le Pen and Macron neck and neck, at 22% apiece, Fillon on 19% and Mélenchon edging into third place with 20% of the potential vote.

These figures must be seen in the context of one third of the 47 million strong French electorate being undecided and a further 30% claiming such disillusionment that they will abstain.  Mélenchon, the candidate of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), has been able to tap into the disillusionment with the establishment which is common across the EU and communicate policies which appeal to the traditional working class base of the Left.

Mélenchon proposes to raise the minimum wage and the salaries of civil servants.  He is proposing to limit fat-cat pay by fixing maximum salaries and imposing a 90% tax on those earning over €400,000 per annum.  He is proposing that France quit NATO, quit the IMF and quit the World Bank, all instruments of failing globalised capitalism.  Crucially, Mélenchon is proposing to renegotiate EU treaties and put them to a referendum, aiming to break the power of the corporate and banking grip on the European Union.  The rise of the Mélenchon campaign has been based on a programme of traditional mass rallies across France, attracting thousands, and a bypassing of the traditional anti-left media through a direct blog found at http://www.melenchon-2017.fr/pages/blog-melenchon

This combination of modern and traditional methods of reaching the electorate has seen Mélenchon rise from a written off no-hoper to the only credible option for the left, easily bypassing official Socialist Party candidate Benoît  Hamon, floundering in the shadow of the failed presidency of  François Hollande.  Mélenchon also has the support of the French Communist Party (PCF) thus ensuring additional organisational strength to the campaign.

The outcome of the French election will have a profound impact upon the future of the European Union and Europe itself, as well as France.  A Mélenchon victory could see the beginnings of a progressive future for Europe, released from the corporate grip of the EU and working towards a Europe of the people’s.  Such an outcome will not be achieved without a fight but Mélenchon offers the prospect of taking a small step in the right direction.