Lessons for Labour from France: manage expectations

Francois Hollande's popularity recently hit a record low for a French head of state, with a whopping 67 per cent of the French population disapproving of the President. The lesson from France should perhaps be that the most sensible thing to do in the current climate is to keep expectations low, or at any rate ensure they never approach anything like that generated in the run up to the election of Francois Hollande.

Francois Hollande’s popularity recently hit a record low for a French head of state, with a whopping 67 per cent of the French population disapproving of the President.

This has dropped a whole 10 per cent on the previous month, and just three in 10 now think Hollande is doing a good job, with two thirds saying “things are not changing” for the better.

It’s easy to forget that Francois Hollande came to power on the back of a wave of enthusiasm, noticeable among young voters and mainly generated by his promises to tax the wealthy, get tough with the financial sector and shun austerity.

Hollande demonstrated, as Andrew Rawnsley put it, that a geeky social democrat could triumph over a showboating conservative.

Sound familiar?

Less than a year later and Hollande’s poll ratings are worse than any French President in living memory.

So what happened? And more importantly, could the same happen to Ed Miliband should he win the 2015 election?

Two words: expectation management. Monsieur Hollande came to power on the back of a manifesto which contained 60 propositions, including :

  • Big tax rises for big corporations, banks and the wealthy individuals;
  • the creation of 60,000 teaching jobs;
  • bringing the official retirement age back down to 60 from 62;
  • creating subsidised jobs in areas of high unemployment for the young;
  • promoting more industry in France by creating a public investment bank;
  • granting marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples;
  • the separation of banks’ retail and investment arms and
  • pulling French troops out of Afghanistan.

The package of proposals was also cloaked in the broader message that Hollande was going to lead the country back to economic recovery.

As might have been expected, it didn’t take long for such high hopes to unravel amid a worsening Europe-wide economic backdrop.

There were also always going to be bureaucratic stumbling blocks in implementing such far-reaching measures, which further added to the sense of a chaotic presidency. France’s top court branded Hollande’s 75 per cent tax on incomes over €1m (£800,000) unconstitutional, with French newspaper Le Monde calling Hollande’s tax policy “a disaster”.

And Hollande’s budget minister, who was supposedly a “vocal crusader against the use of overseas tax havens”, has also been forced to resign over allegations that he had a secret overseas bank account that contained around 600,000 euros ($770,000) for some 20 years – which he has now admitted to.

Based on the speed of the collapse in support for Hollande, though, it’s hard not to see it in terms of expectations raised and then dashed.

It’s often said of Labour that the electorate know very little of what they will do should they win the next election. This is voiced as a criticism of Labour’s long policy review process, and those voicing the criticism appear to believe not only that Labor should be capable of drawing up a full manifesto at this point but also that it would be expedient to do so.

The lesson from France should perhaps be that the most sensible thing to do in the current climate is to keep expectations low, or at any rate ensure they never approach anything like that generated in the run up to the election of Francois Hollande.

Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for being boring.

13 Responses to “Lessons for Labour from France: manage expectations”

  1. Alexander Harrowell

    “Don’t be in the Euro”.

    “Do stimulate”.

  2. Jonathan Orchard

    If Hollande has lost popularity because he hasn’t delivered on his promises, isn’t the answer to deliver more not promise less?

  3. sarko

    The socialist top-down Euro is the problem and Hollande is hardly going to pull out.

    For all their love of ‘diversity’ they don’t ‘celebrate’ diverse currencies for some reason!

  4. Jonathan Roberts

    Surely the real lesson here is that a high tax and high spend culture does not create a healthy economy?

  5. Jackie Davis

    It’s just the Right wing press reporting what they want you to see. No left wing government appears in a good light in newspapers.

  6. Pat Brennan

    Ensuring Delivery is always the most elusive of achievements of any Party which assumes Office.

  7. gavv

    socialists don’t want a healthy economy. they want everyone to be ‘equal’. equally miserable when all the taxpayers leave. maybe they should put up some sort of wall

  8. robertcp

    I agree about keeping expectations low but shouldn’t we wait a few years before deciding that Hollande is a disaster.

  9. Stephen Wigmore

    Wouldn’t the lesson be that Hollande’s policies sounded good on paper but in reality they were bollocks?

  10. SadButMadLad

    The lesson from France is not to do what Hollande did. It’s nothing to do with expectations, it’s all to do with reality. Sounds good to tax the rich, but when everyone leaves in droves, then it turns out to be a bit of a disaster. It’s not only the super rich, it’s also the just plain well off who leave. And they don’t need to physically leave, they can move their money out of the country – like buying property in London. Or should we have capital controls as Richard Murphy espouses?

  11. Joshua Lindsey

    A good post, however I think Labour also needs to manage it’s own expectations. Too many ministers are acting like the election is inevitable. Not ever seat will be a South Shields and we need to maintain an element of pressure or campaigners and local organisers simply won’t feel the need to get people out of the door on polling day.

  12. SadButMadLad

    I didn’t know the Guardian and Mirror were right wing. They aren’t reporting the Hollande’s government in a good light. Could it be that Hollande’s actions really are useless. Ed Milliband was in the past very pally with Hollande. Where is that pally-ness now, when Hollande needs all the help he can get. Or has Ed realised that Hollande’s path is a path to self-destruction?

  13. jeff a

    Ed Milliband will take up the reins of David Cameron if he wins the next election. He will be allowed to manage the country, and retain the status quo between rich and poor. The money men control this country and they will not give any of it up for Mr. Milliband.

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