Thu Sep 28th, 2006 at 06:24:28 AM EST
Less than a week before the final date (October 3rd) for candidatures for the French Socialist Party's primaries, things are falling into place.
This morning former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced on RTL radio his decision not to run, saying that he did not want to "split the party". He said he would not, however, withdraw from the debate.
|I think you'll have guessed, concerning the way of approaching politics, the relationship with citizens, the manner of considering the Socialist Party, that there is a choice I will not make in favour of a - or of one (feminine), to be exact - of the candidates.||"Je crois que vous avez deviné, autour de la façon d'aborder la politique, du rapport aux citoyens, de la façon de considérer le Parti socialiste, qu'il y a un choix que je ne ferai pas en faveur d'un - ou d'une, pour être plus précis - des candidats"|
So it's clear he's against Ségolène Royal. It's not clear he's in favour of anyone else. What effect might this have?
Jospin, a former leader of the party and a good Prime Minister, still has considerable support among party members and sympathizers. This means that, had he chosen to stand in Ségolène Royal's way at whatever cost, the risk was high of dividing the party and weakening the designated candidate for the fight against Sarkozy. Now, although he is making fighting noises, he hasn't really got the wherewithal, in my opinion, to back it up.
The fact is that his attempted comeback after four years' retirement from political life has dragged its feet. People who live in the media's eye know it's imperative to keep on showing your face. A four-year gap is a killer: Jospin suddenly looked old. He could be as energetic and clenched-fist as he liked, he never looked like leading a winning battle against Sarkozy. Jospin has, in a sense, always fought the media, and more broadly, the sway of perception over political life. His belief was always that facts spoke for themselves, and that patently honest discourse was the way to win hearts and minds. He has now twice been disappointed in his belief (in 2002, and today). Perception does rule, and he is perceived as schoolmasterish and Protestant. Ségolène Royal, who knows the importance of perception, has left him in the dust.
Which doesn't mean there is still no anti-Royalism in the PS. The Jospin Attitude - hard work, policy, realism, straight speaking, no kow-towing to media and communications plans - isn't an idiosyncracy, it's widespread on the left (and I personally have great sympathy for it, except it doesn't work). Royal has stirred up animosity in the PS precisely because she demonstrates it doesn't work. In doing so she has trodden on sleeping elephants' toes - those who were waiting for Chirac's mandate to wind towards its end before wheeling out their candidatures have been infuriated to see Royal already out there ahead, occupying territory they assumed was theirs by right.
So there'll still be a fight within the PS. François Hollande, party leader and Royal's partner in life, has yet to announce whether he will be a candidate. The only sense his candidature might have is to be on hand to unify the party in case of a serious split - but that the left should go into the presidential battle with Hollande as principal candidate would already be an admission of defeat, and even (this is my personal view), the end of the French left as it has been organized for several decades.
Otherwise, declared candidates are Royal, Jack Lang, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Laurent Fabius. Jospin's withdrawal favours Royal in the sense that Jospin would have been the heaviest contender for her to fight; but it also frees DSK and Lang, who were in Jospin's shadow. Fabius has done well recently, with a rousing left-wing speech at an event where the candidates all spoke, but he still polls feebly. Will it be worth his while running a personal candidature (meaning leaving the PS) to get a small percentage in the first round of the presidential? His answer to that question depends on his degree of narcissism, I guess.
News of the rest of the left
The "single-candidate" saga dribbles on. I predict, as I always have, that it will end up with each group presenting its own candidate, as in 2002. The Trots already have theirs: for Lutte Ouvrière, Arlette Laguiller (LO will in no case team up with the rest of the hard left, and Arlette's candidature is certain), and for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Olivier Besancenot (also most unlikely to back down now). Marie-George Buffet of the PCF is still trying - against the wishes of a significant chunk of her own party - to work out a single candidature with ATTAC and the "anti-libéral" left in general. José Bové has said he is willing to consider the candidature, but he doesn't seem to believe in it. So perhaps Buffet will end up Communist candidate, possibly Bové (or someone else) for the altermondialists.
Splitters one and all...
Yesterday's CSA poll on "who would you vote for if the election was today?" gives:
Royal 31% <--- PS
Sarkozy 30% <--- New Gaullism
Le Pen 15% <--- who?
Bayrou 6% <--- Centre right
Besancenot 5% <--- LCR, Trot
Laguiller 4% <--- LO, Trot
Voynet 3% <--- Greens, fantastic...
Buffet 3% <--- PCF
Double warning: the election is a long way off, and Le Pen always does better than his polling figures.