Is She Sulking or Is She Plotting?

They say Martine Aubry is cross. They say she is furious with François Hollande and Jean-Marc Ayrault. They say she’s sulking. They say she wants revenge.

Then why does Aubry look so happy? Why is she projecting a sense of confidence and comfort in her current role: leading to Socialists into battle for the current legislative elections?

The biggest surprise to come out of the nomination of the Prime Minister’s cabinet (carefully crafted in partnership with President Hollande) last month was the absence of Aubry in any ministerial position. The rumours leading up to the fateful day had suggested that Aubry was likely to be appointed as a senior minister (when it became clear Ayrault’s position as PM was safe) in charge of a super-ministery bringing in sweeping sections of youth policy and cultural and media policy. The outgoing UMP Culture Minister, Frederick Mitterrand, nephew of the former Socialist president, openly suggested that Aubry was “obviously” his successor. However when the time came no such super-ministry was created and no such position found for Aubry.

So was she excluded or was this part of a plan? I have blogged earlier that I did not believe that her exclusion from government was necessarily a tactical blunder, as it was portrayed by many (Sarko-friendly) political hacks – on the contrary, it could be setting up an advantageous and politically astute mid-term shuffle opportunity.

There is also evidence that Aubry knew about her fate some time ago. Her attitude just before the second-round election and in the days immediately after it, before the nomination of the new government, was impeccable, suggesting a woman that was happy with the outcome and aware of what her immediate future held for her.

That is important, for Aubry is notoriously bad at hiding how she really feels. When she sulks, the world knows about it. Her mood swings are legendary. Her face is notoriously expressive. And yet we have seen (and have seen since the election of Hollande) Aubry at her best.

This week’s events brought Aubry and Ayrault together at a Socialist rally, where they stood on stage holding hands, and joked with each other and in speeches about the alleged division between them. This is probably more than just a clever double bluff.

So what does the future holds for Aubry (or at least, if we are to hold to my theory, the next 2 to 3 years)?

Aubry had previously announced prior to the presidential election that she would stand down from her leadership role in the Socialist party shortly after the election. That now looks likely to happen in time for the Autumn party conference. Aubry remains mayor of Lille, the largest northern French city, and her regional fiefdom. No other national role appears to be immediately available. It is unlikely she would accept a post in Europe (she lacks the diplomatic touch, and has never expressed an interest in such a move, despite her father being Jacques Delors, arguably the greatest President the European Commission has ever had). Instead, she might simply concentrate on Lille, biding her time for the mid-term shuffle. Whilst this might prove to be a personally useful period of “crossing the desert” for her (both Sarkozy and Hollande have profited both professionally and personally from such breaks from front-line politics in the lead up to their presidential ambitions being realised) surely the danger will be for the next holder of the premiership of the Socialist party. To have Aubry sitting in the shadows and potentially sniping from the sidelines is not the best position to begin a new mandate.

So if she does leave the stage, will she be able to resist throwing grenades at her successor? Perhaps that depends on who it is: her protege, the pleasant but somewhat ineffective Harlem Desir, would perhaps be a safe option. If however the party shifted direction and went for a more centrist figure, it is likely that she would need politically to keep her presence felt via well-placed deputies.

In any event, unless she can really let go of her immediate ambitions for front line politics (even for a short time) her having time on her hands is not necessarily a good thing for the Socialists.

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