France’s socialist crack-up

Published on openDemocracy, by Patrice de Beer, Dec. 17, 2008.

The efforts of France’s hyperactive president Nicolas Sarkozy to become an indispensable and omnipresent global actor continue to be aided by the disarray of his domestic political opposition.  The internecine war for the control of the principal leftist movement, the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party / PS), is emblematic of “Sarko’s” luck. While the world’s economic and social situation enters into ever-deeper crisis, denting incomes and threatening millions of jobs, the socialist leaders’ dispute has offered a bathetic contrast. Indeed, coincidence of the G20 summit in Washington and the PS’s gathering in Rheims gave the French media ample opportunity to contrast the grand scale of global challenges with the petty partisan warfare into which the congress descended …

… After the elephants:

The elephants’ confident rampage convinced them that Ségolène Royal would lose decisively. In the event, she actually won the first round of voting with 29% of the votes. This provoked a quick rearrangement of tactics in which the old guard tried to unite the three other factions – represented 71% of the votes – against her. Indeed, these managed to go as far as adopting a common platform, but failed to agree on a common candidate before finally rallying behind Martine Aubry. This did not stop “Ségo” winning again in the initial direct contest with her main rival, before they were virtually tied with 50% each (which meant that Aubry’s vote had declined from 71% to just over 50% between the two rounds). The more Royal was attacked, the more she gained support – and she remains the favourite to be the left’s presidential candidate in 2012.

Indeed, the results even at their provisional stage showed that she carried a majority of rank-and-file voters against a worn-out party machine which had failed for more than a decade to undertake any imaginative ideological and practical work to adjust the party’s platform to the realities of the 21st century.

True, PS members do not always agree with her not-so-original political rhetoric; nor with a very personal, almost messianic style that has some resemblances with the style of campaigning familiar in the United States. But what unites them – another echo of the Barack Obama phenomenon – is their hope for a long-delayed modernisation of the PS, weariness with a generation of feet-dragging old men who always seem to be looking in the rear-mirror, and desire to move beyond the tired slogans and deal-making politics among different political courants (streams) … (full text).

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