French left dismisses Blair

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The Independent Online
A French Socialist minister yesterday pointed to "le Blairisme" as an example to avoid.

Claude Allegre, education minister and close friend of the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, said the French Socialist Party was reinventing centre- left politics. It was going through an "ideological transition" which would take the party neither towards the Communists "nor towards Blairism".

He told Le Figaro: "The [French] government, and especially Lionel Jospin, are trying to invent a new way which is neither [free-market] liberalism, whose attractions are fading, nor old fashioned socialism; a way which combines individual responsibility with the general interest, justice with efficiency."

Mr Allegre's comments give a rare glimpse of the intense rivalry which exists beneath the surface friendliness between the Jospin and Blair camps.

When the two prime ministers were elected this year, within one month of each other, they inherited enormously different countries and economies. But they are inevitably in competition for the moral and philosophical leadership of the European left.

In his interview, Mr Allegre known for his blunt speaking, did point to some similarities between the approach of the two governments on job creation.

The interviewer from the right-wing Figaro, a newspaper which regularly uses Mr Blair as a stick to beat the French Socialists, pointed out that the British government was a ceaseless advocate of "flexibility" in the job market. Mr Allegre replied curtly: "They talk about flexibility, at any rate. We are not going down that road because that word has become synonymous with social precariousness and the absence of social protections for those who work."