What now, then?

So, the French Socialists have made their decision. The questions are, then, what the ones who made the wrong decision will do, and how the Right reacts. Everyone within the PS is already being very responsible and congratulating each other – DSK says the party is already united, and that he is at the new leader’s disposition, and even Laurent Fabius is making conciliatory noises, although he does want a “sign of her anchorage in the Left”. (Does that mean a cabinet post, or am I too cynical? With Fabius it’s hard to be.)

The realities are clear. For prestige reasons everyone will stand in the first round, which means that there is a wealth of options for disgruntled socialists. Traditionally, these votes will troop back to the PS in the run-off, but this is of course only of interest if they get into the run-off. As there is likely to be a strong extreme-left challenge, the ffirst priority for Royal is to mobilise the base in order to deliver the 25 per cent plus of the vote needed to reach the run-off.

The Communists and the extreme-left have been struggling to find common ground ever since what they perceive to be their triumphs over the European Constitution and the CPE. This week saw their third “national antiliberal meeting”. As is traditional, they agree on very little, and the Communists naturally believe they ought to be in charge. The Trotskyists, naturally enough, suspect that the Communists are trying to nick their votes through something like the classic united front strategy. Their long-standing candidate, Marie-George Buffet, was recently re-elected by a genuinely communist 96 per cent, and is now banging the drum for “orphan socialists” to join her collectif antilibérale. Meant are the supporters of Laurent Fabius, some 18 per cent of the membership. José Bové, meanwhile, who until a while ago was touted as a far-left unity candidate, accused Royal of Blairism, which we’ve said before is bound to be the meaningless word of the campaign.
Continue reading

1..2..3..And They’re Off – The Left

On the other side of French politics, as I promised, the internal conflicts are if anything stronger. To start with the most important ones, the Socialist Party is about to do something quite rare in its history – have a contested primary election. The only other was that of 1995, when Lionel Jospin beat Henri Emmanuelli to succeed Francois Mitterand. Before that, the candidacy normally went to the party’s first secretary, who was usually Mitterand anyway. (Before 1971, when Mitterand set up the modern PS, the various splinter-groups from the old SFIO that made it up of course had their own arrangements.)

Since the disaster of 2002, though, this looks like it’s going to change, chiefly because there’s a strong external candidate. Ségoléne Royal, the head of the Poitou-Charentes regional government, has been campaigning vigorously all year with some success. The success can be measured, in fact, by the frequency with which she is being accused of “Blairism” by the rest of the possible candidates. This looks like being the content-free insult of the campaign, in fact, as could be seen with the PS official quoted by Libération who remarked that he didn’t want Royal to “come back from London and abolish the social security” – after all, everyone knows that the UK provides no social security whatsoever, right?

It would be more accurate to place Royal on the soft-left. (If anyone’s Blairite in this game, it’s Nicolas Sarkozy – this speech is a classic of early Blairite rhetoric circa 1997.) She is no more “neoliberal” than Lionel Jospin was in government, for example, or for that matter Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is closer to the Greens than some. She is given to vaguely conservative speaking, but it’s harder to discern where a concern for civisme, secularity and Republican values (in the French sense) stops and where a rather stern law-and-order politics begins in a French context.

However, it looks more and more as if the rest of the party is gearing up for an “anti-Blairism”, stop-Sego campaign. And policy doesn’t matter very much in this sense.
Continue reading