A YEAR IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS
Hamon … and the Socialist Party
One year ago today – 100 days before the Presidential Election – some 60% of those who were about to declare their Oath of ‘Supporter-of-the-Left’s-(and not forgetting The Ecologists’)-Values’, and hand over their symbolic Euro, would choose relatively unknown, but rather left-wing, Benoît Hamon as Socialist Presidential Candidate. The near-universal fashion of the time required voters to send incumbents of all stripes on their way. And, in the following day’s Socialist Primary, Hollande’s erstwhile Premier, Hard Man and Strong Man Valls would be given a harsh heave-ho by those so-ungrateful Lefties (and not forgetting The Ecologists).
By that time – with every other Party having nominated their Presidential candidate before (or way before) – it seemed a remarkably bold ask to imagine anyone being able to keep that much-damaged Socialist Flag flying here. President Hollande’s support had previously slumped to an almost unimaginably low 4%. It was, therefore, unsurprising that Hamon’s support was virtually at the same level. Even so, it’s now scarcely believable that Hamon was quickly being credited with 15%+ support in the polls. Indeed, his polls remained at those heady heights for nearly 2 months. Serious suggestions emerged (at least among the self-deluded Socialist Party membership) of persuading Hard-Left Mélenchon to withdraw in Hamon’s favour.
The pattern of the 1st round Presidential campaign for those anywhere left of centre quickly emerged. Could space be found for Hamon between:
- Mélenchon’s witty, aggressive and (yes) inspiring Hard Left radical candidature,
- Macron’s own version of Third Way politics (which had worked temptingly for Blair/Clinton/Schroder), and
- the fear affecting many of the danger of supporting Hamon … and possibly ending with a Fillon v Le Pen Presidential run-off
What room could there be, in this mix, for Hamon’s tax on robots (later taken up by Bill Gates) or his proposals for universal basic income (if Gates is somewhere, can Zuckerberg be far elsewhere?) [and why not read The Guardian on how Finland’s centre-right Government experimented with UBI, paying 2,000 unemployed people €560/month for 2 years, regardless whether they found a job].
Hamon duly crashed and burned. Near total wipe-out. The candidate of the once-powerful Socialist Party finished in a lamentable 5th place with 6% of the vote, barely ahead of a maverick semi-loony Hard Right figure, Dupont-Aignan, who was himself to team up with Le Pen for the Round 2 Presidential run-off.
Hamon’s burial was duly followed by the Parliamentary Elections disaster in which the Socialist Party (and its fellow-travellers) was reduced from 331 Deputies to 45. Resulting today in the publication of near-daily obituaries of the Socialist Party.
And there I was (364 days ago) not-so-prophetically writing ‘Should the Socialists finally end up 5th that surely sounds their demise.’ I have to admit I never thought it’d actually be that bad.
Fillon … and Les Républicains
France’s traditional centre-right conservative Party (and not forgetting the Centre too) had organised, for the very first time, an ‘open’ Primary to choose their Presidential candidate in November 2016. The supporters of The Right (and not forgetting The Centre too) certainly didn’t follow the trend of dégagisme [‘get lostism’ named after Tunisia’s Arab spring, and then amusingly defined by The Economist‘s ‘Charlemagne’ columnist as ‘a popular urge to hurl out any leader tainted by elected office, establishment politics or insider privilege’] to the letter.
Those punters who claimed to ‘share the republican values of The Right’ (and the Centre too) had certainly succeeded in hurling out all predictions by those paid to know the outcomes of these things. Turning their backs on both ex-President Sarkozy and long-time hot favourite ex-Premier Juppé, the Chosen One was to be François Fillon. The conservative approach to dégagisme was to pick a man who’d been Sarkozy’s Premier for 5 years and a professional career politician throughout his life.
A year ago Fillon’s faltering neo-Thatcherite campaign (attack the public health provision/get rid of half a million public sector workers) was just beginning to get mired in PenelopeGate/SleazeGate/FakeJobsGate. In a mirror image of Hamon’s campaign, Fillon’s politics had tacked HardRightwards. But who could be bothered about political programmes when regular revelations (often in Le Canard Enchainé) were to emerge about Fillon’s fictitious employment of family members and associated money-related charges. What little political credibility Fillon’s campaign may once have had was quickly lost for good. Yet the polls, a year ago, constantly showed Fillon neck and neck with Macron (around 21%); so the 2nd round run-off – between the two leading 1st round candidates – was by no means a done deal.
Fillon’s result was, in the end, better than might once have been feared by The Right. In spite of near-constant demands that he stand down, Fillon’s 3rd place and 20% of the votes cast might have been thought almost ‘respectable’. Yet 2017 was to be the very first time, during the Fifth Republic’s near-60 year existence, that The Right had no candidate in the Presidential run-off.
An exit poll by Ipsos claimed that Fillon got 45% of the votes of those aged 70+, 27% of 60-year-olds and variously between 8-13% of those aged between 18-60. Was it just Fillon’s candidature that seemed so out-of-touch, or was there a deeper problem with support for The Right in general? Might we see increasing question marks over the future of Les Républicains in the coming weeks? New Party boss Wauquiez has ‘youth’, but little else, on his side. Several ex-Party heavyweights, once ‘on his side’, have decided to do other things than remain in Wauquiez’s increasingly Eurosceptic ever-Harder Right Party.
This week’s Odoxa poll confirmed the worrying news for Wauquiez
- half those polled believe Wauquiez is ‘imitating the Front National’
- around 60% see him as ‘incompetent’ and ‘not nice’,
- while, startlingly, nearly two-thirds view him as ‘dishonest’.
Dark(er) days surely lie ahead for Les Républicains. Can the Parliamentary Right survive long if it abandons any pretence to speak for centrists?
You will doubtless be relieved to hear that Les Républicains’ website has sparked back into life. It has identified one ‘activity’ worth mentioning: their National Council meeting today. But there’s apparently no other ‘activity’ at all for the rest of 2018. Perhaps the (re-?)positioning of Les Républicains was best summarised by glancing yesterday at their website’s Home page. A photo of three police officers, accompanied by the legend ‘In favour of the re-establishment of minimum sentences’. That’s what was wanted: clarity of message. And it’s clear there’s little danger of Wauquiez being off message. Today the 3 police officers have been replaced by smiling Party apparatchiks.
Le Pen … and the Front National
Marine Le Pen, a year ago, was leading in polls for the first round of Presidential voting. Every poll gave her 25% support, but predicted she’d lose the Presidential run-off against either Fillon or Macron (back then there was no question of Mélenchon being a possible contender, in any sense, for that Presidential 2nd round).
It had, a long time ago in 2002, seemed almost unimaginably shocking: a Front National candidate in the Presidential run-off. But fifteen years on? It had become almost a commonplace. Le Pen (and her then Svengali/right hand man Philippot) had achieved the Front National’s principal long-term objective: dédiabolisation (decontamination/de-demonisation). The Front National had become a political Party (almost) like any other.
Some (few really – apart from me, myself and I) continued to fret about possible scenarios which might result in Le Pen being elected President. Even after her astonishingly crazy outbursts during the Presidential Debate with Macron, when she clearly lost it (in every sense of the phrase), I felt ongoing angst.
A year on, Le Pen is a much diminished figure. The disaster of That Debate still hangs over her and her Party. A handful of activists under Philippot split/were split from the Front National and started up Les Patriotes. The Front National is undergoing a radical analysis and overhaul of its policies. Even the Front National name is likely to be changed: maybe the ‘Nouveau Front’ or how about ‘Solidarité Nationale’. A Nasty Old Man called Le Pen croaked from his swamp that abandoning the name ‘Front National’ would be a ‘real betrayal’ of its activists and voters over 45 years.
By a timely coincidence the Front National and Les Patriotes will confront each other tomorrow as candidates in a Parliamentary bye-election in Belfort (north-east France), and they will both be semi-distant also-rans. 8 other candidates are also available. The first bye-election since Emmanuel Macron’s election, it follows the cancellation by the Constitutional Council of the Républicain Deputy’s victory by 250 votes last June due to cheating. He’d produced leaflets that made it look as though both the Front National and France Insoumise were urging their voters to vote for the Républicain candidate … but, strangely, he’s been allowed to stand again. The winner will be Abstentionists United. Wauquiez would just love a Républicain victory.
For those wanting to know the ‘brains’ (?) behind the FN, an article by Buzzfeed News and Médiapart (in French) named some company bosses, a senior gendarme (and ex-Prefect) and lawyer who, it’s claimed, did their (secret) service for Le Pen.
Mélénchon … and La France Insoumise (rebellious, unbowed, unsubmissive, indomitable)
In the 2012 Presidential Election, Mélenchon won 4 million votes (11%). On Election night back then he called on his voters to vote for Hollande – even if he didn’t mention him by name – in the run off against Sarkozy.
But the Mélenchon that finally emerged in 2017 was a very different proposition. He’d campaigned non-stop since he’d founded his radical France Insoumise movement in 2016. He laid more emphasis on his undeniable wit and command of oratory and language and crushed each of his left-of-centre opponents, or potential rivals, with a programme that became ever more populist and Eurosceptic.
In the year preceding January 2017, Mélenchon’s support had long been steady in the low teens. But Hamon’s nomination and accompanying momentum pushed Mélenchon down to 5th place, with support hovering around 10%. He held his nerve, scornfully refusing several attempts to persuade him to talk about enabling a single candidature on the left (aka that he stand down in favour of Hamon). And once Hamon’s candidature fell away, it was Mélenchon’s support which climbed ever-higher, even touching 20% in a couple of outlying polls. It was sufficient for some commentators to talk of the Presidential race having become a four-way battle.
On Election Night, The Young voted for Mélenchon (Ipsos showing 30% support), with ever-diminishing support for him as people got older, garnering 15% of those in their 60’s and a mere 9% of voters aged 70+. He seemed to take the result badly, as if they’d persuaded themselves he’d get through to the 2nd round. Yet Mélenchon’s 7 million votes (only 260,000 behind Fillon’s 3rd place) left him enviably well placed for another joust in 2022 should Macron stumble, and especially if Le Pen further implodes. Though many may find it difficult ever to vote for a man who refused to call on his voters to vote against Le Pen and wouldn’t even say how he himself would vote.
Macron … and La République en Marche
After the near-endless sequence of 2017’s Elections, with Emmanuel Macron and the LREM sweeping most before them (except the Senate), no electoral challenges were planned until 2019’s Euro-Elections.
Except that things don’t work out entirely as they’re supposed to do. Apart from the Belfort bye-election, 5 other Deputies for the National Assembly will also be chosen (broadly to the interest of political wonks alone). One bye-election will held at the same time as Belfort, and there LREM appear well-placed to keep their seat, 3 in March. Danger ahead for one of the last few Deputies with the ‘Socialist’ moniker.
And will the results of these bye-elections bear out this week’s Ipsos poll? The latter shows 46% believe that Mélenchon’s France Insoumise best represents opposition to the Government, 31% hold it’s Les Républicains, 17% the Front National and 5% (as many as that?) the Socialists.
Where Are They Now?
- Hamon – left the Socialists; set up the 1st July Movement; re-created as Génération·s (‘What world are we leaving to future generations?’) which claims 50,000 members; awaiting the creation of a joint Euro-Parliament candidates list with Varoufakis
- Fillon – left politics; joined Tikehau Capital, an investment fund; awaiting news of the progress of several judicial enquiries … which may lead to M. and Mme. Fillon’s trial or, perhaps, the case(s) being dropped
- Le Pen – awaiting her Party’s prospective re-creation
- Mélenchon – awaiting the President’s mistakes
- Macron – awaiting progress on the next set of radical proposals for reform
Could it just be the case that President Macron is about to become Friend N° 51?
Finally, some words on Brexit I wanted to share
These are the opening paragraphs – from an article entitled ‘Theresa May’s new Brexit strategy: jump first, argue later’ – by the Financial Times’ Philip Stephens: