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.

You’d think, then, that the first order of business would be to tack left and secure the first round. However, Royal seems to be instead going for a rolling start into the real campaign, using her fellow regional governors to bypass the central party machine. Presumably, the plan is to attract enough new voters and floaters to outweigh any desertions. The bad effects are already visible – according to Le Monde, DSK is considering setting up a formal faction in the party dedicated to social democracy.

Despite the original touch of the governors, and the technical advance of greater use of the Internet, the Royal strategy looks rather like Lionel Jospin’s disaster in 2002. Then, Jospin failed to get the base out enough to get past round one, whilst running a centrist swing-voter pitch. The difference is a far greater concern with participation – Royal has been floating the idea of citizens’ juries to review the performance of all kinds of politicians, an idea that moved Dominique de Villepin to suggest televising the council of ministers. (Not that he would know much about democracy, having made it to the Matignon without ever being elected to anything.)

With luck, though, a change of course may be pressed on the new leader. After all, the 20% of the party that voted DSK, as well as the man himself, are very much available. And, interestingly, the geographical breakdown suggests that the supply of rebels might not be as copious as all that. Royal’s biggest successes came in the countryside, but also fortress areas like the Bouches-du-Rhone, and even in the leftist fief of the Landes. The only area of France that didn’t go her way by a distance is Paris, which swung DSK.

Fabius country is hard to find.

2 thoughts on “What now, then?

  1. Another difference from 2002 will be that people have seen what can happen if they desert the Socialists in the first round. She could just be counting on the hope that people would rather compromise their principles slightly and vote for her in the first round rather than be forced to go with Sarkozy in the second. But all this is depended on a Le Pen candidacy. It’s been a while since I’ve followed French politics really, but I presume he’s running, right?

  2. Interestingly, re Fabius-country, the French historian Emmanuel Todd, the one who foresaw the fall of the USSR in 1976 at the age of 25, points out in Libération (http://www.liberation.fr/actualite/politiques/elections2007/219111.FR.php?mode=PRINTERFRIENDLY ) that the regions where Fabius received in excess of 20% of the votes are the industrial ones (Alsace, Lorraine, Normandie, Limousin, Somme Ardennes) – although he forgets that other industrial regions such as Nord-Pas de Calais and Bouches-du-Rhône went heavily for Ségolène Royal…

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