Friday, 27 April 2012

It’s not just the high tax that the French are escaping

When Mike Robb, Speaker’s Chair’s editor, wrote a piece last Sunday willing us Brits to hope for a Francois Hollande victory in the French presidential election, one felt a certain tongue in cheek was at play.

A Socialist win would damage France’s competitiveness: tax increases on earnings above €150,000; the proposed 75% tax on millionaires; corporation tax raised; all signalling that France was ‘closed for business,’ so the argument went.

But, whilst this would hurt France, this would in turn benefit the UK. Businesses would relocate to London, hordes of wealthy French men and women would fight their way onto the next Eurostar.

Noises coming out of France suggest this argument may not be far off the mark. The Times reports that an exodus is on the cards. Online inquiries from France about homes in expensive parts of London have increased 19%, according to property agents, Knight Frank.

If any of this does materialise, (I remember the grumblings from certain British millionaires who threatened to flee if Labour came to power in 1997. Most stayed didn’t they?), they’ll join a sizable expat community.

400,000 French people live in Britain already, with around 300,000 residing in London alone. Some believe this number is even higher. Their reasons for leaving are numerous, not merely a load of wealthy exiles escaping the clutches of a high tax society.

Now part of France’s recently created Northern Europe constituency, many left France long before Hollande’s tax threats. The spectre of long term unemployment and an uncertain future lingered in the minds of many, especially the young.

Axelle Lemaire, the Socialist candidate for the UK and northern Europe, revealed a number of factors at work:

“Education and raising children with two languages is a big issue. French people living in the UK are young, the majority under 40. There are more women than men.

“One third work in the public sector, especially in education. The idea of lots of French bankers in the City is only part of the picture. Most are family orientated, with more than three children per family.

“[Some want to escape] the hierarchy and discrimination of the French system."

For over two decades, youth unemployment in France has remained stubbornly high. At 19% in 1990, barely falling since, and currently standing at around 22%.

Five years ago, before the 2007 general election, a trip to London and a chance to capture the votes of its French community, made up part of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign trail, where he delivered this memorable line:

“France is still your country even if you're disappointed by it."

Reasons given for leaving then were similar to those articulated now: trouble finding full-time work, limited opportunities, up against a rigid hierarchical corporate culture, and a lack of dynamism, spurred on by a disdain for globalisation.

So, while the headlines in the coming weeks will be dominated by stories of well-to-do French folk heading for the exits, it’ll be worth remembering that most of those who have already left did so for a less anxious and more secure future, and not to further bolster their coffers by paying less tax.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Friday 27 April 2012

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Will Being Labour Be Enough?

Whilst latest polls make encouraging news for Labour - last week gave them their biggest lead over the Tories since 2007 - things aren't quite as rosy for leader, Ed Miliband.

The consensus, especially amongst Labour lefties (such as myself), is that he's doing a pretty good job, putting David Cameron on the back foot on a number of issues.

Those calling for a break from the New Labour/Blairite era have certainly been rewarded.

But, whilst this warms the hearts of left wingers, the public haven't responded in kind. His personal ratings trail well behind those of his party's.

On the question on how he's performing, only 22% think he's doing well, compared to 66% who think he's doing badly.

David Cameron's are hardly wonderful: 34% against 60%, but still a significant 18 points better than Miliband's.

In terms of who'd make the best Prime Minister, Cameron outscores Miliband by 11 points: 30% versus 19%.

Another figure that should concern is that regarding economic competence.

A Guardian/ICM poll published just before last month's budget showed 42% of the public trusted Cameron and George Osborne to manage the economy, whereas only 25% said the same for Miliband and Ed Balls.

I'm sure those figures are likely to have changed a bit after the government's awful handling of the budget, still making headlines one month after it was delivered.

Not for the first time, it'll be the state of the economy where the next election is ultimately going to be won and lost. The public need to know that they can place their faith in Labour's big two.

Interestingly, on its piece about the French presidential election, The Economist reveals that the favourite, Socialist Francois Hollande, fares worse than Nicolas Sarkozy on a number of traits associated with leadership:

"[Sarkozy] scores better for having “the authority of a head of state” (54%, next to 23% for Mr Hollande), for being “capable of taking difficult decisions” (49 to 23%) and for being “capable of taking the right decisions faced with the current economic and financial crisis” (41 to 27%)."

And yet Hollande is expected to win convincingly in the second round of voting in two weeks time.

Maybe Ed shouldn't worry too much about his approval ratings, then.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Tuesday 24 April 2012

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ed's Doing Just Fine

There’s nothing the media crave more than a fall guy. Someone to sink their teeth into, ripping reputations to shreds. Character assassination is more the tabloid style.

A lot of snide and derogatory comments have come the way of Ed Miliband, many since the very day he became Labour leader.

And yet, slowly but surely, he’s started to grow in stature. He’s begun to find his voice and his line of attack.

Bradford-West by-election aside, it’s been a good few months for Ed.

It takes some courage standing up to the Murdoch empire, something previous leaders avoided like the plague.

Leading the charge against its concentration of power in the UK has won Ed plaudits across the political divide. You can imagine the pundits remarking: “I never thought he had it in him.”

His calls for a more ‘responsible capitalism’, as opposed to our ‘predatory’ one, struck a chord, and tapped into the “we’re definitely not all in this together” mood.
He has become a more than able performer at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) – not that the public notice or care for PMQs: a spectacle savoured only by political anoraks and Westminster hacks.

Last month’s budget was a gift to the opposition. The budget that keeps on giving:

“...probably the most bungled in history, fiscally neutral yet politically incendiary,” as Polly Toynbee put it.
The government has been on the defensive ever since.

Alongside Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, the cutting the deficit ‘too far, too fast’ mantra is being vindicated by our low growth, jobless recovery.

An often cited criticism of Ed Miliband is that he comes across as socially awkward, and a bit weird.
But, it’s in hustings, one to ones with the public, that he seems to shine.

At a recent Labour party event he was praised for the way he engaged with his audience, both ‘emotionally and intellectually’, addressing those who asked questions by their first name. In contrast to David Cameron’s ‘polished’ but ‘slightly distant,’ act:
“[He] gave [party members] a reminder of why he made such an impression in the 2010 leadership...Miliband would never have won in 2010 without his strong performance at Labour party hustings across the country.”

Labour’s slogan for May’s local elections, “with you in tough times,” is a simple yet effective way of drawing voters’ attention to a party which is caring and in touch with their concerns, rather than the false compassion offered up by the Conservatives.
It’s worth noting that Ed Miliband inherited a battered and bruised party, but not a broken one.

2010’s general election gave Labour its second worst showing at the polls since 1918. Its share of the vote down 6.2% to 29%; a loss of 94 seats, leaving it with 258 MPs.
Yet, this was only 49 seats behind the Tories. A crushing defeat, but one would have expected far worse for a party led by such a deeply unpopular Prime Minister.

In short, Ed has had something to work with.
A lot of new and fresh faces have joined the party; some have already found their way onto the shadow cabinet benches.

If we look at the electoral arithmetic things look fairly bright.
According to analysis carried out by Lord Ashcroft, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, the Tories require more than 40% of the the vote just to win an outright majority at the next general election.

They also need to secure a lead of around 7.5% over Labour.
“...while the Conservatives struggle to piece together two fifths of the electorate, Labour’s core support plus left-leaning former Lib Dems could theoretically give Ed Miliband close to 40 per cent of the vote without needing to get out of bed.”

More heartening for the Labour leader is that despite the PM’s best efforts, the Tory brand remains as toxic as ever.
A recent YouGov poll found that 42% of people would never vote Tory, compared to 30% for Labour.

Even more worrying for David Cameron, as Mehdi Hasan points out, is that:

Not since 1974 has an incumbent prime minister pushed up his party's share of the vote.”
Not even Thatcher or Blair managed it.

Whatever is said about Ed Miliband, Labour’s share of the vote has held up well, and is currently at its highest level since the 2010 general election, with a lead of anything between 9 and 11%.
Not bad for a leader whose own ratings don’t measure up quite as well.

As leading psephologist, John Curtice of Strathclyde University, notes:
“It took the Tories several years, basically until Cameron came along [in 2005], to look electorally competitive, [but, in 2010] Labour got competitive again within a matter of months".

Exposing the incompetent and amateurish nature of this government hasn’t been too difficult.
Over the next three years, Ed Miliband’s challenge will be to draw up a set of distinct, brave, centre-left policies, with a splash of populism thrown in, whilst trying to claw back some of the 4 million working class voters lost since 1997.

This looks like a one term government. Time to unite the left.

This article was first published by Speaker's Chair on Sunday 22 April 2012

Friday, 20 April 2012

When Does A Protest Vote Stop Being A Protest?

When it commands 9% of the vote and sits in third place in the polls, overtaking the coalition's junior partner.

That's what happened this week when a YouGov poll put UKIP on 9%, one point ahead of the Lib Dems. The first time this phenomenon has occurred.

As is often the way when the smaller parties make inroads at the expense of the big three, a spot of panicking breaks out, the scratching and ruffling of hair, followed by the soul searching. At least two of these were probably true if you were a Conservative.

How much of a danger do parties like UKIP really pose? Surely, it's typical to give the government a bashing two years into their term? Especially one feeling exposed, without a majority of its own to fall back on.

Nothing more than a bit of fun and games. When push comes to shove supporters will flock back to their masters. When it really matters, on polling day, they'll revert to type.

Or they won't.

It's right, as one commentator noted this week, that to treat UKIP as a political force is certainly over-doing it.

They don't have a single MP, control only one small council, and saw their leader, Nigel Farage, humiliated at the last general election, beaten into third place by Flipper - a guy dressed as a dolphin in protest at the 'flipping' of homes scandal that beset MPs that year. Something that the speaker, John Bercow, whose seat he was challenging, got caught up in.

Whichever way you look at it, UKIP's rise mirrors that of the forth column: 'Others.'

The Greens have their own MP, the likeable Caroline Lucas, and are the biggest presence on Brighton council, and in a strong position to replicate this success in Norwich.

The nationalists in Scotland are so popular that only in England are we daft enough to refer to them as one of the 'Other' parties. In Scotland, they're the government, and yet still have six MPs down in Westminster.

It's credit to their remarkable rise since devolution (although they have been around since 1934) that they now dominate the political landscape up there, trampling over each and every opponent.

At the last general election, 'Others' made up 11.9% of the vote. This of course also includes the nationalists in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the likes of UKIP and the SNP.

This pattern, the rise of the so-called protest vote, has been with us for some time.

A glance at the Guardian/ICM polls, carried out every month since 1984, indicates just when the Other grew in prominence.

Back then, and without UKIP and devolution in Scotland and Wales, Others captured between just one and two per cent of the vote.

Support grew steadily for the next 20 years, hovering around the 4-6% mark.

The breakthrough seems to come around 2003 (The Iraq war, a coincidence?), where it rarely drops below 7%, and starts to make inroads into double-figures. Since 2007, Others have consistently polled at anything between 10-13%.

Agreeing on why Other parties' votes eat into the big three is fraught with difficulty. Partly because every pundit on the left and right has his/her own theory, unable to settle on a consensus, and partly because the electorate are more volatile now than ever before.

If I had to sum up in one word why the likes of the SNP, and to a much lesser extent UKIP, attract so much support, it'd be this one: simplicity.

They offer voters a clear, unambiguous, blunt message.

For the SNP it's the chance of independence. A once in a generation opportunity to break free from the shackles of the detached, Westminster elite.

That, and a whole range of unashamedly left-wing, Old Labour, policies: free NHS prescriptions, free eye tests, no tuition fees.

And for this, they have never been so popular. Latest polls showing the SNP stretching their lead over Labour to 18 points. Almost half of Scots consistently back the party. Half. Can you imagine any of our parties getting anywhere near that figure anytime soon?

UKIP wows its own with the promise to withdraw, once and for all, from the EU. Why? As their website explains:

"Not because we hate Europe, or foreigners, or anyone at all, but because it is undemocratic, expensive, bossy -  and we still haven't been asked whether we want to be in it."

Politics doesn't come any simpler than that.

A referendum on EU membership was promised, then taken away. Voters know that only UKIP will grant them one. Whether they actually want one is a moot point.

On immigration, an issue we know still chimes with voters, they call for an end to mass, uncontrolled immigration, as well as an immediate five year freeze on people coming into Britain.

Dog-whistle politics, aimed at the lowest common denominator. And popular. To hand them a campaign slogan, you know where you stand with UKIP.

If the Tories are worried, they should be. Reports indicate that 10% of Conservative voters are ready to jump ship and back UKIP next month.

Tim Montgomerie, influential champion of the Tory grassroots, has put the frighteners on the party by hinting of possible defections by two MPs to UKIP.

This isn't just about the threat to the Conservatives.

We know that a number of disaffected working class Labour voters have switched to the far right BNP. Not in anywhere near the numbers that UKIP gets, but they're still lost Labour supporters.

After the BNP's success in 2009's local and European elections (winning almost 1 million votes, or a 6.2% share), the party was warned not to dismiss this as a mere protest vote, but:

"...rather something profound at work way beyond the Westminster bubble.

"A consistent voting pattern is emerging, partly driven by material concerns linked to issues of class and race. Yet the notion of the "protest" vote absolves parties from addressing their own shortcomings and the policy issues that are deemed unfashionable within SW1."

It's only our antiquated, disproportionate voting system that has prevented any UKIP or BNP members being parachuted into parliament.

Labour should be thanking their lucky stars there isn't a left wing UKIP equivalent.

The Respect party are still too small to make any impact at a national level, bar what we saw with last month's cult of the personality.

That doesn't mean they won't be an irritation at a local level, with seats on the Bradford council a target on May 3rd.

The mainstream parties need to understand that protest voters have stopped protesting. They have settled on parties that offer them something plain, straightforward, and easy to relate to.

Differences between the big three are far too nuanced and confusing for many voters to comprehend. They don't have the time or the inclination to leaf through manifestos, or look at how Labour would tackle the deficit, and which services they would or wouldn't cut.

The charge that they're all the same no longer rings true. The Others are not the same, and the public know it. That's why they're drawn to them.

This article was first published by Labour Uncut on Friday 20 April 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Tax Should Be Taxing

Tax is no longer the preserve of accountants and the HMRC.

Picked up by the media and starting to dominate political headlines on a weekly basis, it has become one of the hottest topics around.

Who is or isn't paying their fair share? Who's dodging the taxman, or exploiting legal loopholes in order to avoid paying as much?

This issue matters because it goes to the very heart of the society we live in, and more importantly, what kind we want to live in.

Amazing it's taken so long to become mainstream news. This is a society which prides itself on fairness, and yet has seen the gap between rich and poor widen to record levels. This issue could, and should, be here to stay.

It'd be nice to say that our political class have given this the prominence it deserves. That it's been on their radar for a while. But, it hasn't.

We can thank a number of dogged campaigners for bringing it to our attention. UK Uncut have done tremendous work in highlighting tax avoiding companies, run by people accused of sheltering their wealth offshore, away from prying eyes.

They have exploited social media brilliantly in getting their message across.

The tireless and irrepressible Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, has devoted years to tackling the 'Tax Gap,' and the chasm of money lost through avoidance and evasion schemes.

Whilst official figures point to a £35bn tax gap, according to Murphy, this hugely underestimates the loss, which he puts at closer to £120bn a year.

Tax avoidance has brought condemnation from both sides of the political divide. When you have The Guardian and Daily Mail singing from the same hymn sheet, you know we're on to something big.

A turning point may have been reached for our politicians when the Green Party's Jenny Jones astutely challenged her other London mayoral candidates to come clean over their tax arrangements.

Both Boris and Ken can thank their reluctance to openness from the start for keeping this running for so long.

When Ken Livingstone's team complain that this distracts from them campaigning on "real issues" that Londoners want to talk about, they ignorantly ignore the fact that the integrity and honesty of our politicians, currently held in such low regard, are crucial issues in their own right.

When George Osborne says he is "shocked" that the wealthy avoid paying so much tax, one cannot but doubt his sincerity. Either that or he is desperate not to alienate his friends in the City.

As Larry Elliott notes:

"If he is genuinely surprised by the tax arrangements of the well-heeled in the UK, he has either been living in a cave for the past 20 years or is unfit for his current post.

"One of Britain's (few) areas of comparative advantage in the global economy is the ingenuity of the big accountancy firms in finding ways round the tax system.

"Tax avoidance is big business in the UK. We do a lot of it. We market our expertise abroad."

Full tax disclosure should be obligatory for all those seeking and holding political office, whether at council level or in parliament.

How long must we wait until all three party leaders, their cabinet and shadow cabinet teams, in fact before every member of parliament, publicly declares their tax burden?

David Cameron announces that he is "relaxed" about the idea, which sounds a bit like saying: "well, if we really must, and there's no way round this."

Open democracy isn't our strongest point. MPs' expenses had to be practically forced out of them, with many kicking and screaming right until the very end.

Party candidates are still chosen behind closed doors with open primaries looking a long way off.

Some councillors resist elected mayors because they know they'd be a direct challenge to their quiet, unassuming, out of the public glare, way of doing things.

This is a chance for Labour to grab the initiative, upstage the government, and get all its MPs to publish their tax details without delay.

But, our MPs are only little fish compared to the bigger prize of multinational corporations and the country's private millionaires and billionaires.

As has been argued: "it is secrecy that enables inequality, while transparency underpins social justice."

Three cheers for social activism. One step ahead of politicians, yet again.

This article was first published by LabourList on Thursday 12 April 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Rise And Fall And Fall Of The Lib Dems

Once upon a time there was a political party who believed in something. Who stood for something. Who held views other parties rejected. Who campaigned on issues that weren’t always universally popular.

They then had a leader who grew and grew in stature. Who charmed and won over the electorate in a series of pre-general election televised debates.

But, unfortunately, for said party, this never translated into votes on polling day. Blame our antiquated voting system they raged. We sympathised.

But then, when all seemed lost, along came a smart and convincing salesman offering them the chance of a lifetime. This jolly, chirpy, chappy, waved the prospect of power-sharing under their disillusioned noses.

What’s more, this guy looked and sounded very much like our guy, thought the party faithful.

They hit it off instantly. The public were taken aback: two sworn enemies jumping into bed with each other; governing together? But, their politics is so different. How will they ever get anything done, asked a sceptical media?

Won’t they bicker and argue constantly?

But, they didn’t. In fact, they seemed to quite like each other. A lot. That other bunch aren’t so bad after all, they thought to themselves. We’ve been unfair to them all these years.

Anyway, the party thought, we’ve still got our beliefs and our principles. We’ll never sacrifice them.

But, you know, the country’s finances really are in an awful mess. Something’s got to be done about them. An austerity package might not be a bad idea. Severe austerity? Seems harsh, but being in power means taking tough decisions. We’ll support it, they cried in unison.

Don’t worry, we’ll always have our ‘red lines,’ they reassured.

But what’s this? A report into university tuition fees calling for the trebling of existing fees. Outrageous! We campaigned against this very kind of thing. We shall not be moved.

But, you know, the public purse has taken a real battering over the last decade. Higher fees might not be such a bad idea after all. And promises are there to be broken aren’t they? Isn’t that one of the rules of power?

We’re convinced, let’s have higher fees, they chorused. Some threatened to rebel, but most didn’t. We’re in power; united front and all that. What’s next?

PR. They remembered that this was what distinguished them from the other two main parties for as long as anyone could recall. Time for a huge, concerted, ‘Yes’ campaign.

We’ll change the voting system; we’ll have more of our MPs elected, we’ll be in power forever, they smirked.

However, there’s one small problem. Our great leader isn’t that popular anymore. In fact, he isn’t popular at all. Both parties have enacted the same policies, yet only our leader seems to be getting it in the neck. Strange business, politics.

Still, the public will come to their senses and give a resounding thumbs up to PR.

Except, they didn’t. They gave it a big, fat, no. That’s disappointing, they sighed.

And, the thing is, there’s not much green about this government is there? Isn’t the environment one of our issues?

Not as much as Europe. Time to stand firm. Make sure the PM doesn’t isolate us. Except, he just has. What the Dickens?

So, why is our leader not condemning such a reckless move, they demanded? Oh no, he is now. Our mistake. He didn’t, then he forgot what his line was, then he did. At least that’s straight.

Being in power’s exhausting. You don’t get credit for anything. The public are so ungrateful. Apathy’s a dangerous thing.

They’ll never notice if we tinker with the NHS then. A little reform here, a dollop of privatisation there. I mean, what has the NHS ever done for us? That’ll teach ‘em for being so mean to us, they thought.

And, don’t let them tell you we don’t stand for anything anymore.

“We are the party of civil liberties.” “WE ARE THE PARTY OF CIVIL LIBERTIES,” they chanted. They’ll always be safe under us.

We’ll never allow something as draconian as a ‘snoopers’ charter,’ will we, their supporters murmured meekly. Oh!

This article was published by Labour Uncut on Monday 9 April 2012

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Seven Steps To Re-Election

The government are in disarray. They're losing their grip. Hardened Tories are revolting. Well, we knew that anyway, except this time they really are losing patience.

A catalogue of (amateurish) errors, disastrous economic policies, complacency, and a sheer aloofness, pervades every facet of this government.

The most incompetent in living memory, as accurately described by Polly Toynbee

In a week in which a radical produced the shock of this parliament and took a supposedly 'safe' Labour seat, it's time for the party to throw off the shackles and put together a list of policies which will resonate and stick in voters' minds.

Half-baked, bewildering, nuanced ideas won't wash. The response to what Labour would do in power about the 50p tax rate made the party look shamelessly opportunistic and dishonest.

Here, I have compiled a list of seven policies which can help steer the party back to power.

Some are outlandish and I realise extremely unlikely to ever get proposed, but they make a powerful statement and shows an element of risk that may well chime with the electorate.

Others are unashamedly populist, but you need to appeal to peoples' hearts, as well as their minds. The public are fed up with hearing the same, tired, worn out ideas. Time to excite and entice. There is also little danger of the coalition pinching any of these!

1. Let's begin with the most contentious: renationalise the railways.

We know this is a popular idea. 70% back it. Maybe people support it because they know it'll never happen, but that might be because no one has yet to propose it.

Everyone has had a miserable train experience, everyone has been ripped off. It's amazing the number of times I've heard people call for renationalisation. And, a recent study shows it's more viable now than ever, and would save money.

2. Following on from this, time to renege on support for the new HS2, high speed rail, project, labelling it as the catastrophic waste of money that it is. All the evidence suggests so.

Far better to invest this money in the current rail network: increasing carriage numbers, widening platforms, renovating stations, and most important of all, reducing (significantly) train fares.

3. Abolish tuition fees: Once fees were introduced, by Labour, it was inevitable they'd creep up and up over time. How are we ever going to convince those from poorer backgrounds that university is open to everyone if we price them out of it?

Higher education should not be the preserve of the wealthy and middle class. £9,000 fees sends out the message that only the usual suspects should benefit from a degree and better job prospects.

4. Introduce PR: Yes, that old chestnut again. Except this time genuine proportional representation, the Single Transferable Vote (STV), and not 2011's proposal for a diluted, semi-proportional, compromised (AV) version.

5. Open Primaries For Parliamentary Candidates: This, for me, is a no brainer. If there's one thing we should be seeking to emulate from the US, it's this.

David Cameron waxed lyrical about it until he saw what it meant in practice. Ed Miliband gave the idea his backing when he was Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

A commitment that allowed non party members to select, in 'open' hustings, each and every new and existing Labour parliamentary candidate, would be an historic change and a victory for open democracy.

It would also challenge complacency, safe seats, and revive the MP-constituent relationship.

Most significantly - and this is the ideal scenario - it may help bring forward a different type of politician; MPs drawn from a wider pool, moving away from the career politician, who hails from the same background, went to the same schools and same universities as his/her colleagues.

6. A War on 'The Tax Gap': Which if successful, would help pay for all of the above.

To focus so much energy on so-called 'benefit-scroungers' (cost to the taxpayer: £1.6bn), compared to the tax avoiders, evaders, and those who either pay their tax late or not at all (cost to the taxpayer: anything from £35bn to £120bn  ) is just obscene.

7. Victory For Francois Hollande: Okay, so this isn't a policy, or something that Labour can do much about. It's a hope. A win for France's Socialist candidate in its presidential elections would provide a much needed boost for centre-left parties everywhere.

With the recent tide in Europe moving away the left, a victory for Hollande would give Labour an invaluable ally, and hopefully with it, a rejection of punitive economic policies.The EU's relentless insistence on fiscal austerity would finally come under attack.

That's just a start.

If the collapse in support for the three mainstream parties says anything, it's that the public are turned off by business as usual. No wonder so much attention gets devoted to mavericks and independently-minded mayors.

Time to be brave.

This article was first published by LabourList on Monday 2 April 2012