Future of the left? Miliband meets French presidential challenger

By Ian Dunt

Ed Miliband held high-level talks with French presidential candidate Francois Hollande today, in a meeting which could start a distinct new phase for the European left.

Mr Hollande, who is ahead of president Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, is running on a radical leftist programme proposing 75% tax on millionaires and a European financial transaction tax.

The two men – both left-wing intellectuals – have been trying to formulate a language in which to express socialist alternatives to austerity.

"Great conversation and lunch with Francois Hollande and his campaign team," the Labour leader tweeted afterwards.

"Discussed growth and jobs, the future of the EU and the Middle East.

In a sign of how importantly both sides treated the talks, which will take place over lunch, Mr Miliband brought senior figures from his front bench team, including Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and shadow Europe minister Emma Reynolds, who speaks fluent French.

Mr Hollande brought Pierre Moscovici, his campaign manager, and Élisabeth Guigou, former French justice minister.

Mr Hollande's speeches around the 'contract' of generations also chime with Mr Miliband's statements on the 'British promise', where each generation does better than the last.

Tellingly, he is not visiting David Cameron, who all but came out for President Sarkozy last week during a joint press conference, although he conceded appearing with him on the campaign trail might not aid his electoral popularity.

Mr Cameron's reaction is not unusual. With every major European country now being governed by the right, Mr Hollande needs to show French voters that he can form alternative alliances across Europe.

He is also keen to prove he can stand up to Germany, having criticised President Sarkozy for failing to properly manage his uneven relationship with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Labour is unlikely to support Mr Hollande's demand for a European financial transaction tax and Mr Miliband will be keen to distance himself from the extreme elements of his income tax policy.

Analysts point out, however, that many high earners in Britain would actually pay less income tax under Mr Hollande's plan. The 75% top rate on millionaires would mean most high earners below that level only pay 45%, rather than the 50% currently in place in the UK.

Recent polling shows President Sarkozy is catching up with Mr Holande, although the challenger enjoys a substantial lead.