Wed Feb 21st, 2007 at 12:28:11 PM EST
Brief news of the French electoral campaign. I wondered the other day if Sarkozy wasn't over-confident and over-protected by what it's an understatement to describe as compliant media, and if there might not be a turning-point in the air.
Well, maybe, maybe not. But things that matter to Sarkozy - TV ratings and opinion polls - have turned on him over the last few days.
On Monday evening, Ségolène Royal was on TF1 being quizzed by a panel of "representative French". Sarko had done the same show a couple of weeks before, and Bayrou had made some quite justified noise about the partiality of the channel (belongs to Sarko's dear buddy Bouygues) and the producer (a former chief advisor to PM Raffarin, great Sarko-supporter). Sarko had also made errors during the show, notably declaring that 50% of French employees were on the minimum wage (in fact 17%), but since it was Sarko no one noticed, he's the man who's right whatever he says. Royal got through it better than that. And she got a higher audience rating, 8.9 million to Sarko's 8.2 million! Sarko said ratings didn't matter, but he was peeved all the same.
The next piece of news requires confirmation by other results, but the first poll out after that show is good for Royal and Bayrou, bad for Sarkozy. I'm lifting this from my comment in the Salon:
|Royal repasse devant Sarkozy au 1er tour, selon CSA|
Au lendemain de sa prestation sur TF1 suivie par une audience record de 8,91 millions de téléspectateurs, la candidate socialiste enregistre une hausse de deux points, avec 29% d'intentions de vote.
Son adversaire de l'UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy, accuse quant à lui une baisse de cinq points par rapport au précédent sondage CSA des 14-15 février. Il est crédité aujourd'hui de 28%.
Au deuxième tour, le ministre de l'Intérieur l'emporterait par 51%, contre 49% pour la présidente de Poitou-Charentes.
François Bayrou... gagne quatre points au premier tour et recueille 17% des intentions de vote, devant Jean-Marie Le Pen (Front National), crédité de 14% comme lors du précédent sondage CSA.
|Ségolène Royal moves ahead of Sarkozy in the first round, according to CSA|
The day after her appearance on TF1 followed by a record audience of 8.91 million, tha Socialist candidate picks up two points, with 29%.
Her UMP opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, drops five points compared to the last CSA poll held February 14-15. He is now credited with 28%.
In the second round, the Interior Minister would win by 51% to 49% for the president of the Poitou-Charentes region.
François Bayrou gains four points in the first round with 17% of voting intentions, ahead of Jean-Marie Le Pen, credited with 14% as in the previous poll.
Again, it bears repeating that this poll needs confirming by others. But it's the first time there's been an apparent halt to the slow slide in Royal's polls. It shows Bayrou attracting more positive attention, though the numbers on the right are subject to caution. As I've said before, Le Pen consistently does better in real votes than in the polls. He claims it's because the polls are rigged, but that's just him making himself out to be a victim. It's more likely that some people vote Le Pen "on the sly" and don't like to admit to it, even to a pollster. The Front National has an electoral base of 16-17%. That may mean in turn that Sarkozy's number is over-evaluated, though there's absolutely no way of knowing. Someone who means to vote Le Pen but doesn't want to own up to it, may give their opinion-poll vote to Sarkozy, or any other candidate, though one might expect it to be more likely a right-of-centre candidate.
Don't make me say what I'm not saying: that Bayrou's progress is taken from Le Pen cheaters! No, in this poll, he seems to be biting into Sarko.
Why these two news items, the TV show and the poll, are welcome is that they make it difficult to keep up the non-stop media narrative that Royal was just a flash in the pan, and now the real campaigning has begun she just can't hack it. Obviously Sarko was the real McCoy and he was going to win. Here he drops below her first-round score. If other polls confirm the tendency, the campaign will kick off afresh.
Not to worry, there's other stuff out there for the media to occupy eyeballs and eardrums with. The Parti Socialiste's spokesman on economic questions, Eric Besson, resigned his post last week after a clash with François Hollande over the way the Royal campaign should present the costing of the candidate's propositions. One week later, he has announced his intention to leave the PS altogether -- but not politics as I have read here and there.
Who is Eric Besson?
Not an "elephant", nor even a well-known public figure. There's a good biographical note on him here in Le Monde for those who read French. I'm using it as the basis of what follows.
Besson may be a typical French political honcho (Sciences Po, ENA) but he's not very typical of the PS. He went into politics late after a business career (Renault management, founding the business mag Challenges, head-hunting, founder of a generational club for 40-somethings, friendship with Jean-Marie Messier (ex-CEO of Vivendi Universal)). He joined the PS (perhaps because he knew and liked François Hollande, his old professor at Sciences Po, small world) in 1993, was elected deputy in 1997, joined the party direction in 2000 -- a rapid rise. He supported Jospin for the Socialist primary but Jospin withdrew.
Why did he resign?
I'm drawing on a long text he wrote (here in Le Monde) and to this morning's interview by Jean-Pierre El-Kabbach on Europe1 (scroll down to 8h 20).
The proximate cause of his first resignation was his row with Hollande, the underlying cause his frustration with
- what he saw (perhaps rightly) as "amateurism" in the Royal campaign
- the lack of co-ordination between campaign and party
- the absence of a proper place for arbitrage of disputes
He says he intended his departure to be discreet and didn't want to cause trouble. It's hard to believe he really thought that was possible. He knew perfectly well that the slightest hitch in the Royal campaign is immediately amplified by the media.
In his explanations for his second resignation, from the party itself, Besson shows fairly deep disagreement with the socialists by and large, and, indeed, with the left in general. There is:
- his disagreement with the Royal campaign - "bad steering, bad organisation, is not going off well" he said in the radio interview - and, on political grounds, a lack of overall structure. He obviously disapproves of the "participative democracy" approach. I was there for the "self-management" phase, he says. Others will know the happiness of living through the rational phase.
- the split between the Royal campaign and the party, in which he thinks the campaign is too independent from the party. He puts the blame for the under-utilisation of DSK, Jospin, and Fabius on Royal's shoulders.
- on a broader view, he doesn't like the way the PS is heading. He clearly considers it too far to the left, while he was probably hoping to see a more soc-dem or perhaps Third Way development (he himself uses neither term, calls himself a "reformist"). He adds:
- the five-year period of opposition was badly managed, with particular reference to the EU referendum;
- the PS is isolated with weak allies (PC, Greens)
It seems to me Eric Besson had (and it's been going on for a while) serious differences with the party he joined (perhaps, as I suggest, in hopes of seeing it change). His departure doesn't seem illogical. However, it so happens that it hits the electoral campaign at a key moment, and that Besson really puts the boot in. The media will not stop talking about his critique of the Royal campaign and of the PS for weeks.
This is a media-savvy person. He successfully created a business magazine. He knows exactly what he's doing.
Why is he doing this?
He says it's because Royal campaign aides smeared him, putting rumours about that he was having problems with his wife. Personally, I didn't notice those rumours getting any traction anywhere - I only heard about them when Besson himself denounced them. Anyway, all France will hear about them now, which seems to me to reduce considerably the potency of Besson's alleged motive.
He does not say it was Royal's thoughtless question to a worker or workers in a factory when faced with press questions about Besson's first resignation: "Do you know M Besson? No one knows M Besson," which was, for her, a way of showing, to the press and to the people she was talking to, that it was an internal matter and a storm in a teacup. Besson says he understands that, even if it was "indelicate" of her.
As I say, they won't let this go. From smears on his family life there really wasn't much talk about, there will be a huge amount of talk now, and it may drown out (there will be those who will do their best to make it happen) news of a Royal rebound.
I don't think people who study at Sciences Po and ENA, run a career in business and in the upper reaches of a political party, are political innocents. I believe Besson's fundamental reasons for disagreement with the Royal campaign and the PS are sincere, but I find his defence of the noise he's making now rather disingenuous. He doth protest too much, methinks.
He's an old acquaintance of Sarkozy, but has also fairly fiercely criticized him, so it would be surprising to see him go over there. With Bayrou, though... I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see him pop up there.