by Jerome a Paris
Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:39:11 AM EST
We've started a discussion of Ségolène Royal's latest polemic, on the 35-hour week, in the Breakfast thread. The point that interests me here is the reaction of the business press, as usual represented by the Financial Times.
The front page has a big picture of Ms Royal with a title on the criticism of the 35-hour week. The text below does mention that she criticises the law for pushng more flexibility on weaker workers (i.e. she criticises it from the left, not from the perspective of the employers), but the impression given is that this hated social policy of the French left is finally, rightly, criticised (with the implicit support for Ségolène Royal that this implies.
However, their editorial makes a different point:
But it is startling that she should have attacked it not from the centre, where Ms Royal had seemed to position much of the rest of her campaign, but from the left.
Ms Royal criticises the 35-hour measure, not for the failed make-work scheme that it is, but for the manner in which employers have used it to press workers to be more flexible in other ways, such as agreeing to annualise their hours. For the Financial Times, this ancillary flexibility was a side-effect of a law that was otherwise erroneously based on the "lump of labour" fallacy - the idea of there being only a given amount of available work that needed cutting into smaller slices to provide the unemployed with jobs.
Ms Royal has also incurred the wrath of some party leftwingers for her praise of Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, for his view on youth employment and public services. Yesterday's policy statement also included a "Blairite" rebuke of Prime minister Dominique de Villepin's "economic patriotism" - but again, not because it was protectionist, but because it was being used as a smokescreen to privatise Gaz de France.
So there we have it:
- The Financial Times strenuously disagrees with Ms Royal on substance (her criticism of the 35-hour week, her refusal to see GDF privatised);
- yet they give a prominent place to her words, in a way that implies that she does not support policies of the left (or of quasi-lefties, on economic matters anyway, like Chirac and Villepin;
- to top it all, they call her words "Blairite" - even after describing them as hard left, because they criticze the center left.
The conclusion is hard to escape: the only good left is the hard left, because it is easier to demonize and ridicule. And that suggests that if and when Ségolène Royal becomes the candidate of the left, she will be targetted in very nasty ways for her lefty economics, while the discomfort of the left with her tough law and order ideas will be highlighted.
Which brings me back to my title: people like Blair or Hillary Clinton create untold damage to the left, not because of their policies, which may be surprisingly fine, but by their permanent discourse of demonisation of the moderate left, which moves the perceived mainstream steadily to the right and leaves the traditional left appear as unrepentant extremists. The effort to co-opt Ségolène Royal seems under way; we'll see if it succeeds.