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Finally it is clear: 'Blairite' = critical of the moderate left

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.


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In health care, the 35 hour week is catastrophic.  Why?  Because the government has chosen not to hire adequate personnel to staff health care facilities.  There is clearly nothing wrong ab initio with the 35 hour week.  There is plenty wrong with the right's efforts to sabotage outside the democratic process by placing the sick and injured in jeopardy.

"...these dead shall not have died in vain...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
by Ethelred on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 05:24:54 AM EST
Yes, that was typical politics: we impose the 35-hour week on the private sector to get them to hire people, and then we sort of impose it on the publis sector - but without hiring... That was indeed one of the sorriest parts of the 35-hour plan

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 05:35:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whilst I would agree, the truth is that the traditional media are so hostile to liberal or left policies that the only way to get sympathy is to be a part of that critical mainstream.

the best analysis of this is coming out of the USA where the situation has gone a lot further and for far longer. We only have to note the difference in reporting on Bush and Clinton to see this phenomenon in action.

Clinton was destroyed in the press and on TV merely for having extra-marital sex. However, Bush's offences against the USA are legion; he has broken the law 750 times and trashed the Constitution itself on numerous occasions, yet it is almost impossible to even infer a minor criticism of him in the mainstream press.

They simply apply a different criterion when reporting on the left or the right. And it happens here too. Quite why well-educated and informed people, who individually actually tend towards liberalism, behave as a group like a ravening right-wing horde is open to debate. But it is nevertheless a fact that they do and politicians respond to that reality. If they want the press to say nice things about them, they have to be horrible to the left.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 05:41:56 AM EST
Great points about Royal, but I'm not sure I can follow you about Bliarism = demonisation of the moderate left. In what way is criticising Villepin a demonisation of the moderate left?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:12:31 AM EST
Because he's running French style Statist/socialist policies

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:22:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to the FT:

this ancillary flexibility was a side-effect of a law that was otherwise erroneously based on the "lump of labour" fallacy

Just as the Financial Times and the Economist have made it their mission to propagate the bogus lump-of-labour claim about the 35-hour law, the Sandwichman has made it his mission to answer the old canard about shorter work time being based on a fallacious belief that there is "only so much work to go round." See the lump of labor stops here for a compendium of counter thrusts.

Sandwichman

by Sandwichman on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 11:27:15 AM EST
Meanwhile, at Yahoo! Finance today there's yet another instance of the lump-of-labor boilerplate, this time by Charles Wheelen, the "Naked Economist", who writes:
I promised that in this column, I would debunk one of the most pernicious economic ideas of the left. I've chosen the "lump of labor" fallacy, which is the mistaken notion that the world has a fixed number of jobs and that therefore the best way to make workers better off is by protecting those jobs. The French are not the only people who subscribe to this erroneous view of a modern economy, but they seem to cling to it more tenaciously than most.

As is his custom (duty?), the Sandwichman recycled some of his own anti-boilerplate boilerplate at MaxSpeak.

Sandwichman

by Sandwichman on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 06:12:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two observations come to mind

  1. Lets not forget how unpopular the 35-hour work week was in 98 among businesses and right-wing economists AND then how popular it became among workers by 02. I never saw global statistical data but lots of anecdotal evidence at the time of the 02 election that it was the primary reason that Jospin carried only 10% of working class votes. So from whatever direction you do it, its good politics to criticize the 35 hours.

  2. The bigger point -- I am not sure "left" and "right" are very helpful in this context (or any). I don't mean by that any "end of ideology" nonsense but that in terms of both political culture and political sociology, western democracies -- and especially France, especially for the 07 Presidential election -- can't be divided neatly into left and right.

I see the anology clearly to Hilary Clinton's recent speeches, but while  Clinton  does have to, as Jerome puts it, hope the left comes along (in the sense of more liberal Democratic voters), but its not clear to me that Royal does. She may be banking on not picking up the "true left" (as the FT would have it) in the first round -- or much of it in the second.

Given how wide open Sarkozy (and for that matter Fabius) has left the center, one would be a fool not to run for it at full speed.

All that said, I simply am not close enough at the moment to sense how middle-class, middle of the road voters will react to the more hard-core condemnation of teenagers and parents with which Royale made news earlier in the week. I do know lots of teachers who in 02 turned surprisingly to the center or right because of "insecurity" in the form of what they called unruly, badly raised and dangerous students. I wonder if Royale here is trying to win back that constituency, which presumably remains an important one in any presidential election.

A final question -- at this point, is it clear that the "primaires" of the PS will take place in December? or is this speech a sign that Royale might be looking, as Fabius reportedly has been, at running outside the PS?

by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 11:32:28 AM EST
A final question -- at this point, is it clear that the "primaires" of the PS will take place in December? or is this speech a sign that Royale might be looking, as Fabius reportedly has been, at running outside the PS?
That's just what we need: the PS membership blocking Segolene Royal in favour of someone else and her deciding to run anyway. That just makes a Le Pen-Sarkozy showdown all the more likely.

Although, after her recent remarks about using the military as a youth correctional institution, I don't know that she'd be that much better than Sarkozy...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 11:35:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. True
  2. True. I am convinced that the real distinction is the one I call (probably self-servingly) the national-populists vs the social-liberals. But old loyalties die hard, especially when party machines are still around to enforce them, as in France.

Ségolène Royal is going for the popular vote, which may be smart electorally speaking, and I expect that her goal is to become unavoidable in the socialist primary, i.e. to get chosen because she appears to have the best chance of winning against Sarkozy. It's her best chance as she still has little support inside the party apparatus.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 01:10:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given how wide open Sarkozy (and for that matter Fabius) has left the center, one would be a fool not to run for it at full speed

Absolutely, and I think this is what she's doing. The two topics she has hit in short succession -- youth and the 35-hour week -- are no mistake, but part of a deliberate strategy. If she moves into the centre, she can still get left-wing support in the second round. And, better still, she can imprison Sarkozy in his own rightist rhetoric. His plan was undoubtedly to fish for a right-wing base now, and move to the centre as the election draws closer. If Royal takes the middle ground, he will have difficulty doing that. At the same time, she's pre-empting on more centrist PS candidates (DSK?) while leaving Fabius between a rock and a hard place, ie between the PS majority on the one hand, and the hard left (who don't want him) on the other.

It's already bearing fruit. (1) Royal is supported by rank-and-file Socialists on her "tough measures for wayward youth" stuff, so it would appear she can bring along support; (2) Sarkozy is making softer burblings (he has just announced that undocumented children will not be expelled from the country, for example) as if he realizes he has to come in from the far right.

I think it's probably a very efficient electoral tactic, and there's no doubt she's consolidating her position as likely candidate. Will the PS split over it? I don't know. How suicidal is the PS left? Where can they go if they break away? My feeling is they'll grit their teeth and stay on.

I don't personally like these "Third Way" tactics, but I admit they may work. Particularly with Sarkozy out on a far-right limb.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 02:00:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose as long as she doesn't try to out-right the right, she's ok going for the centre. But the end result of all this is to shift the debate to the right overall.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 02:03:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After Clinton and Blair, the fear when dealing with these "tactical triangulations" is that they will simply continue in this manner in power, forever chasing the "centre" between their new triangulated position and the right.

After the battering I have taken from those two, it's hard to trust that Segolene actually has principles...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:06:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But that was my question: is she triangulating, or is she made to look like she is, even though she isn't really (as her criticsm comes form the left on the 35- hour week?)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:29:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I realize I didn't address your main point, I bounced off desmoulin's interesting comment. What I think is:

We saw the "Blairite" meme in creation, between her reply to the FT about Blair, and the Le Monde article construing it. And my feeling was/is that she was being framed.

Now, with these two major themes in one week, there's no doubt she's doing something deliberately. And she must be aware how her words will be handled by the media and understood by most people. She's not bungling, she's not "innocent". So it appears to me she's triangulating.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:57:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afew, you raise two interesting quetions

1. If she moves into the centre, she can still get left-wing support in the second round.. The question is indeed if anyone in the PS could win over LCR/PCF voters (if indeed they do coalesce behind Besancenot or another candidate); I tend to think not, even staring in the face the prospect of a Sarkozy presidency. I should think a certaian # of PCF voters will make the traditional vote first round to elect/vote second round to eliminate calculus but thats likely only to be about 2% of the overall electorate.

So I wonder if Royale (and presumably others in the PS) are starting to look at a different calculus in which they try to get to 50% without necessarily drawing on the roughly 12% of voters on the left who see themselves as belonging to the "social movement" and reject the PS's "culture of government." Fabius presumably has been going the other way (or at least did last year by campaiging for the no), trying to get to 50% by pulling in "social movement" votes but I tend to think thats fools gold.

2. How much support does Royale have among PS "rank and file"? Your post suggets you think its there, but Migeru (II think) upthread writes of the prospect of Royale not winning a PS primary but then launchign her own campaign. I have again only anecdotal evidence (talking with friends and colleagues) but dont' sense a great deal of support among actual PS regulars, indeed if anything I sense hostility to he.

by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:25:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the particular question of the tough treatment of youth, I was quoting from memory commentary on radio to the effect that she had the backing of the PS rank and file. This does not surprise me, people who think punishment and constraint are not the best way to go about handling banlieue youth are rare. On the question of the 35 hours, Royal seemed to have succeeded in making her point about the perverse effects on weaker employees of the change.

But above all, it's a question of who else to vote for if she's in Round Two against Sarko or Le Pen? Some people will abstain, but most won't. And polls show she has surprising support among far left sympathisers.

Sorry I've no time right now to better substantiate these points, but will try to do so soon.

And of course, I could be wrong...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:51:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please substitute "how unpopular it became among workers by 02" in point #1 above. I hope that was clear from context anyway. (Though you'ld never know it, English is my native language ...)
by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:15:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But is it? The socialists have provided polls today that show that 85% of blue collar workers, the same number as white collar workers, appreciate the 35-hour week.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 07:29:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Really; thats interesting. Could you provide a link or is  it on the PS website?  In what context did the PS publish these figures -- specifically in response to SR's speech? (That must have made for an interesting petit-dej at the Hollande-Royale residence.)
by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 12:28:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The bit about her criticism of de Villepin being 'Blairite'. The general convention is that you put scare-quotes around an adjective if you want to indicate that the use of the adjective is questionable in some way.

Often this is done when a (poor IMO) writer wants to use a word or phrase that they are worried is innappropriately slangy or informal for the intended audience; its a defensive move on the part of the author - 'Calling this argument "Blairite" is a bit trendy for you stodgy financial types, but bear with me.' This is the reading I think you are making based upon the conclusion you are drawing.

The other way however (and better technique IMO) is when the writer uses a word or phrase whose meaning they wish to challenge but which (they allege) is in common parlance - 'This criticism has been described as Blairite, but I have wisely deduced that this is not so because it is actually derived from a leftist analysis.'

This is the reading I think the writer intends - "Royale is presenting (or being spun) as a Blairite, but she's actually a wrong-headed lefty."

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 10:32:26 AM EST


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