Britain’s economy should be more like France: does Labour have a death wish?
Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has confirmed that he would like to see the British economy resemble that of France after claiming that French workers are more productive than their British counterparts.In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the minister suggested that French workers were able to do more work in four days than the British were able to do in a week and that France had a greater number of highly skilled, well-paid jobs.
Umunna’s comments will confirm the suspicions of many in the business community who have recently voiced concern regarding Labour’s desire to mimic the socialist policies of French president François Hollande should they win enough votes to form a government in May’s general election.
In a report published this week, analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned that the French president is presiding over an overregulated economy, hostile to business and enterprise, which has led to high unemployment and non-existent economic growth.
The report stated that a Labour victory would “reduce the appeal of the UK as a business location and trigger a deterioration in potential GDP growth. In a nutshell, the UK would look increasingly like France”.
Labour has always been consistently accused of economic incompetence since presiding over the financial crisis of 2008 and unsustainable increases in public spending.
The party’s business credibility has also recently been called into question when shadow chancellor Ed Balls could not recall the name of a single Labour supporting businessman during an interview for BBC Two’s Newsnight programme.
Labour supporters should correctly point out that Umunna was comparing worker productivity and not explicitly endorsing the French economic model. Nevertheless, the shadow minister’s comments will do little to ease the concerns of business leaders worried about Ed Miliband’s Labour premiership. The party leader has failed to shake off his reputation as “red Ed” and previously voiced approval of president Hollande’s controversial economic policies.
Presently, the British economy is performing far better under the coalition government compared with France. The Daily Mail reports that French economic growth in the final quarter was a mere 0.1 per cent compared with 0.5 per cent in the UK. Unemployment in France is currently at 9.9 per cent whilst the UK stands at a modest 5.8 per cent.
Critics of Hollande have pointed to disastrous policies like the short-lived 75 per cent “aspiration tax” placed on large companies. This led to a mass exodus of business leaders moving their operations to countries friendlier to enterprise, contributing significantly to France’s economic slowdown.
For Labour to suggest that it is desirable for the UK to adopt similar policies is absurd, regardless of the party’s ideological allegiances and its commitment to reducing social inequality.
The party is stepping tentatively towards a general election with its economic credibility coming under fire. Some supporters are looking nostalgically to the Blair-Brown era which saw the party win three successive elections, partly by staying on the right side of the business community and by convincing voters that they supported economic growth and sustainability.
If Labour is to regain some of its credibility in time for the May election, they should start by convincing voters that they are the party for preventing, not encouraging, France’s troubling economic quagmire from occurring in the UK.