Blair and Jospin play footie

Chris Burford cburford at
Sat Jul 25 01:16:22 PDT 1998

[Political health warning to B.M. on marxism-moderated: there is a degree of irony in this title.]

Yesterday Jospin visited Blair in his English consituency. Both prime ministers made worthy efforts to give soundbites for their respective media. Blair generously congratulated France not only for winning the World Cup but also even more generously for the "elegonz" with which France had hosted the games, despite past protests at the favouritism in the way they prioritised the availability of tickets for French spectators. Most important, the two prime ministers involved children through a scheme to assist French children to visit British clubs where famous French footballers are employed to play.

On the surface there could hardly be a more reformist gesture: photo-opportunities and public money to put a human face on the way capital buys up footballers at vast sums, and arranges them to play outside their country as golden indentured labour, while their private lives are held up to salacious scrutiny to promote the sales of equally highly capitalised popular media. But it is OK. The prime ministers of the two countries can be photographed with footballs and kids.

But underneath lie two interesting developments.

The electoral victories of Blair and Jospin just over a year ago were in very different circumstances. Jospin's occurred after massive nationwide disturbances against neo-liberal welfare cuts and he came into power as a "more traditional" socialist style politician. His government emphasises job creation through subsidies. Blair emphasised promotion of jobs through intensified education in the context of a highly unprotected global labour market. The two new "socialist" prime ministers were seen at the meeting of the second international to be representing different and conflicting tendencies.

A year on, it appears that Blair has both wanted to exercise, and had some success in exercising, his Francophile tendencies. The political differences are smoothed over, and the vibes between the two prime ministers are constructive. In retrospect Blair's leniency to the French in the long wrangle over the appointment of the head of the new European bank, when all other countries considered that France was just being arkward, makes more sense. Mitterand can cohabit with Jospin, and Jospin can cohabit with Blair.

This courting appears successfully to have shifted to some extent the Franco-German axis in Europe. Blair has also courted Kohl, most successfully in supporting the City of London conferring an honour on him in a way that put the British Conservative Party, completely out of the game, growling in their Little England monetarist trench. There is now a potential triangle between Britain, Germany and France, a specific aim of New Labour policy. The probably election of Schroeder another highly pragmatic "socialist" may strengthen it.

Even more interesting, the real news behind the sound bites and the camera opportunities was trailed by the BBC and on the front page of the Financial Times that morning. The centralisation of capital in the European "defence" industry.

British Aerospace and Daimler Benz Aerospace of Germany have become increasingly close in working out plans to restructure Europe's "overcrowded" defence industry. But they have delayed a deal with the announcement only this Wednesday by the French government to privatise Aerospatiale.

"Under pressure from their governments, BAe, Dasa and Aerospatiale have been working on a blueprint for a pan-European aerospace and defence company that would rationalise the industry. French state ownership of Aerospatiale has been the biggest stumbling block, with BAe and Dasa refusing to proceed unless it was privatised."

What is interesting here is not only the professional handling of the media, but the assumptions that social coordination of European competition in relation to the USA is best managed with guidance to companies privately owned which will allow the discounting and rationalisation of old capital more flexibly, and permit the setting up of a new monopoly, under state patronage.

A more serious type of reformism, than school exchanges of football fans. But both, it seems, are necessary, not only for "New" socialists, but also for modern capitalists.

Chris Burford


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