If the PS isn’t going to give us red meat faction politics, who will? The UMP, that’s who. The parliamentary elections are only weeks away. Nicolas Sarkozy has ruled out taking part in the campaign, and so has Alain Juppé, who has decided not to stand for a parliamentary seat in favour of concentrating on his job as mayor of Bordeaux. (Don’t assume that means he’s ruled anything out in the longer term, though.)
Everyone will have to find some sort of modus vivendi to get through the campaign, but after that it’s a free for all. There are perhaps three key groups in the UMP. Let’s work through them.
One group are the sarkozystes, the former president’s personal following. Despite many efforts to identify a shared ideology among them, the biggest common factor between them is that they are relatively comfortable with the extreme Right, and many of them (like Sarko’s advisor Patrick Buisson) have a background in it, whether the FN, the wider extreme-rightist student movement, or the network around Charles Pasqua and the dodgy fringe of Gaullism. Sarkozy’s personal court was always pretty febrile, and the experience of defeat is only going to make them more so.
As Marine Le Pen is talking about trying to re-organise the Right around her party, they are the ones who like the idea and will try to reach out, although of course they will see it as bringing the FN into the UMP rather than vice versa. But they will also have to decide who their leader is, and that will be a vicious experience.
Group two are the traditional Gaullists, who weren’t particularly happy with Sarkozy and fluctuated between putting up with him and outright sabotage. They are deeply suspicious of the FN, and one of their leaders, the former PM and current senator Raffarin, actually broke surface to criticise Sarko for pandering even before he lost. Look out for much talk about needing to rassembler, social peace, and the Republic. They will see Sarkozy as having lost a great conservative opportunity, and will be after revenge.
And then you have the overlap with the old droite classique, the heritage of Giscard, who don’t like the Gaullists much and don’t really want to be in a party with them. Neither do they like the far Right much, even if some people have been involved in both.
Actually, memberships and life histories tend to overlap all three, which is not surprising in a party whose original raison d’etre was just to support Jacques Chirac in the 2002 parliamentary.
The big short term decision is what strategy to adopt for the parliamentary elections, and how far to cooperate with the FN. Three-way marginal seats between the PS (or other left-wing candidate), UMP, and FN are common, and the question is whether to ally with the FN or fight it for every vote. It’s not hard to see how this fits with the factional divide, but it fits so well with it that it may end up being fudged in order to maintain some degree of unity. The fudge would be to say nothing and tacitly leave it to local initiatives, which has happened before.
The strategic question is whether to head for the centre or to keep going with the Sarkozy/Buisson strategy of “droitisation”. The sarkozystes will point to the fact that the polls pulled in some between the two rounds as evidence that the strategy was working. Everyone else will point to the fact that they still lost as evidence that pandering to the FN turns off moderates, and perhaps that FN voters aren’t sociologically very compatible with the UMP.
Meanwhile, of course, the Left has its own analogous question, which is whether and under what terms to cooperate. Ensuring a left-wing government is very important to the PS, and the degree of influence that the Front de Gauche will have as an awkward partner is vastly greater than what it would have yelling in opposition. Their incentives are to agree, and the cultural gap is less troublesome. Also, coalition between the parties of the Left is a feature of some of its proudest moments, and you can’t say the same about cooperation between French conservatism and the extreme Right.