François Hollande’s election to French president was epitomized on Twitter by various activists in one phrase from his victory speech – “Je suis un Socialiste.” This succinct declaration has split the Twittosphere into two distinct camps; those who fear The Fifth International and those trumpeting the beginning of the end for European austerity.
Whilst there was a clue to Hollande’s political leanings in the name of the party he leads, we on the left can surely be forgiven our glee for hearing the word used to cement his victory to the French people. Our jubilation comes not just from Hollande’s victory in the face of a seemingly unified slash-and-burn European Right, but also from how this victory came hand-in-hand with his openness about the Keynesian economy and liberal social reforms he has planned for France.
No sooner had Twitter rejoiced at the word’s inaugural use than the network was abuzz with people arguing over it’s practicality. ‘Is Hollande really a socialist?’ and ‘Does the word even have meaning anymore?’ are important considerations, especially as, in the Labour Party, the word has become a mere filter for acceptance.
However, for Hollande, it was not the politics behind the word that won him support, but the movement that word came to embody through his own campaigning. Hollande campaigned as a ‘socialist’, was elected as a ‘socialist’ and (hopefully) will govern with these ‘socialist’ principles in mind. The word moved beyond being a simple tag for a political party and came to embody the popular opposition to the stagnating economy caused by Merkozy-driven cuts.
This is ground that we in the Labour Party can easily take advantage of. We have been polling ahead of the Tories for months, and the recent elections can only strengthen our lead. A failing economy is making even the strictest Tories impatient, and the Prime Minister is visibly cracking under pressure as he abandons promising reforms such as Equal Marriage to protect his party interests. But the Party and its leadership has yet to find a message that can really light the flame of indignation in the British public.
I believe that this message is ‘socialism’. When the shadow of ‘same old Labour’ looms over the horizon as we fail to shake off the perceived failures of 13 years in government, and the ‘5 Point Plan’ isn’t sticking as Labour’s alternative, Hollande’s triumph serves as the perfect opportunity to adopt this reinvigorated mantra for ourselves. If we can cast aside our shame at the political wilderness of the 80s, and use the ‘S’ word as the vehicle rather than the driver of our political message, we will be able to capture the mood of the public as it shifts further and further away from Coalition catastrophe.
Don’t think however that I am advocating an overnight transformation of all Labour Party literature in some horrifying volte-face akin to 1984. All it takes is a steady introduction of a new lexicon to the Labour Party, where all our current anti-austerity sound-bites such as ‘Out of touch’ and ‘Too far, too fast’ are paired with pro-Labour phrases that don’t sound as though they’ve been dragged out of a policy document. Link these linguistic counters together in a verbal mind-map, with Labour’s reformed ‘socialism’ at the center, and all the public favour for our Party that has laid dormant for years will gather behind our clearer and more dynamic message of equality and fairness.