Tomorrow evening soon after 8pm (France always votes on a Sunday) we will know the name of probably the last ‘major’ candidate for the French Presidential Election, following the 2nd round of the Socialist Party Primary. For Presidential Elections – as well as the Primaries of Parties choosing their candidates this way – the top 2 candidates in the 1st round of voting go through to a run-off. AND the Socialist candidate will almost certainly be … one Benoît Hamon.
Who can vote? Any French national on the Electoral Register who signs a statement that they “share the values” of the Left and the Ecologists, and hands over €1.
Strictly speaking this is actually the Primary of the Belle Alliance Populaire. That deliciously inappropriate moniker came about because there was
(i) an ‘alliance’ of the Socialist Party and a couple of smallish left/ecologist parties, despite
(ii) a serious drop in ‘popularity’ as determined by the total number of voters from 2011’s 2.7 million voters to 1.7 million in last week’s 1st round, while
(iii) any ‘beauty’ only existed in the eyes of its creator, the Socialists’ General Secretary.
The Socialists will be hoping for a better turnout than last Sunday. Their minimum return from these Primaries would be recovering more of the €3.5 million cost of running these Elections. Les Républicains [Conservatives] charged a hefty €2 per voter in each round, got 8.7 million over the 2 rounds and ended with some €10 million profit for Mr Fillon’s campaign coffers. Why has the Socialist voters’ turnout been so dismal? A near 20% reduction in total polling stations by comparison with 2011, with some country voters having to travel several kilometres to vote, won’t have helped. All part of a vicious circle confirming many voters’ views that the Socialist party is not much interested in them and their problems.
Voters will choose tomorrow between Benoît Hamon (junior Economy Minister for 22 months, Education Minister for 4 months, resigned office in Aug. 2014 to become one of the 28 Socialist MPs known as frondeurs (trouble-makers) leading the internal opposition to the Hollande/Valls austerity measures/labour reforms) and Manuel Valls (Interior Minister for 22 months, then Prime Minister for 32 months).
As Prime Minister of a President whose approval rating had sunk to an eye-watering 4% a couple of months ago, Valls had little going for him. Yet, regardless, Premier Valls always appeared determined to reinforce his “Sarkozy of the Left” image from his Interior Ministry days. A right-leaning centrist, Premier Valls relaxed France’s labour laws by forcing through the adoption of legislation without a Parliamentary vote (now, ironically, Candidate Valls wants to abolish such legislative possibility in future). Valls has suggested more than once that the Party’s name should no longer be ‘socialist’. He has said the left could die if it didn’t reinvent itself – but he found it difficult to respond to those who accused him of being the Party’s killer. He seemed to relish being the Hard Man Premier the left loved to hate, and gained notoriety when (last summer) as Socialist Premier he supported right-wing Républicain Mayors who had banned the burkini. Until, that is, the Conseil d’Etat, ruled the bans unconstitutional. Valls’s detractors have said that his conception of laicité (secularism à la française) has a rigidity which leads to difficulties in integration; while Premier he had said he wanted to ban the wearing of the headscarf (hijab) in University.
Hamon is a long way from Valls. This almost unknown Minister had risen largely without trace to be Education Minister for 4 months before his resignation in August 2014. He then began a long guerilla war in favour of Keynesian policies, while fighting against almost every Government initiative. Pictures of Hamon with Bernie Sanders abound (above all on his Wikipedia page – where there is a plea to ‘contributors’ to stop the open editorial warfare): a striking snap of Hamon/Sanders has been taken in front of a couple of definitely non-gold-lacquered lifts.
Hamon may be the ideal candidate for today’s anti-establishment mood and those many (?) Socialist voters seeking an alternative who was “None of the Above”. He did not go to any of the much-lauded grandes écoles, the breeding ground for all France’s conventional politicians (nor did Valls interestingly), but he appears a new clean leftist sympathetic anti-politician. And he’s far more youthful-looking than Sanders/Corbyn.
Hamon’s programme spends a lot of time on environmental issues (Valls does not touch on that). But the major eye-opener – apart from the de-criminalisation of cannabis (Valls, needless to say, won’t touch that at all) – is Hamon’s proposal to introduce a universal basic income, at an eventual rate of €750/month … costing some €450 billion if paid to every adult. But it’s been really healthy to have finally had one new idea seriously debated during the Primary season.
Last Sunday, Hamon led with 36.5% and Valls got 31.9%. Montebourg (another leftie – tho’ more champagney than Hamon – classically “well-educated” with a partner who had also been a Minister) got 17.8% of the vote and urged his supporters to vote Hamon in the run-off, which they almost certainly will. Unless substantial numbers of ‘new’ voters emerge tomorrow and support Valls (eg Les Républicains who would want Valls to win and thus stop Macron’s progress), it seems extremely unlikely that Valls has any chance.
What about PenelopeGate, and Mr Fillon’s non-lawyer children? More soon on Les Républicains’ standard-bearer, whose standard seems to have become a bit dirtied, and his underwhelming campaign.
The only people who would seem to have done well over the last week are:
- Emmanuel Macron, who will be delighted to see the Socialists pick an unreconstructed Leftie, ensuring Macron gets more centrist votes, and
- Mme Le Pen, happy with Fillon’s difficulties, she may herself be scrapping with Hamon for the environmental vote … yes, the latter is a strange novel interest of hers!