Absolute Power

As anticipated, the Socialists secured a comfortable majority in the National Assembly last Sunday, enabling them to govern without relying on recalcitrant partners such as the Greens or the far left. With the Senate, the Presidency and the regional governments under their control, what perils lie in store for a party with what is being described as a “hyper-majority”?

1. Hubris

The President made no statement on Sunday (as is the tradition after legislative elections) but the Prime Minister (now confirmed in his role and soon to present his cabinet’s programme to Parliament in an extraordinary session next month) was careful to talk about the new majority being at pains to protect the position and power of the opposition and its openness to diversity of opinion.

Whether that is true, or is simply designed to keep the far left quiet for the time being (a fruitless task, ultimately) is unclear. The government is likely to prove as eager to control “The Message” as any other. The reshuffled government this week also did not bring about the opening up to the Communists that was anticipated and instead sufficed to move two miscast Ministers and bring in a few more former Senators.

A number of apparent quick wins in foreign policy (which seem to derive from the fact that no foreign statesmen were openly hostile to the new President on his recent jaunts) coupled with an ability to control the governmental agenda to a larger than expected degree could make the Socialists complacent. A party that controls everything may be tempted to get lazy with policy or (perhaps more likely) its presentation.

2. The drift towards the left

The UMP has made hay (and continues to do so) with comparisons between the new Hollande administration and that which took power in 1981. Francois Mitterrand’s first government collapsed in economic shambles after two years of chaotic ad highly damaging hard left policies, including widespread nationalisations.

No such policies were proposed this time round – whilst Mitterrand was avowedly Socialist in his first term, Hollande is clearly a Social Democrat in all but name – but the UMP has continued to bang the “tax and spend” drum to the extent that some on the left, realising that they won’t be seeing any of the revolutionary policies being used to taunt them, have begun to pine for them.

The left wing of the Socialist party has always been more powerful than the right, it’s leading proponents today being Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon (both in the government but in safely marginalised positions at Productive Recovery and Cooperatives and Associations) and Martine Aubry herself. The current administration however is dominated by figures from the centre right. To deal with the forthcoming bumps in the road, the strongest temptation will be to shift left. The Party will demand it, misdiagnosing the defeats to come as indications that the government isn’t socialist enough. Party members will demand it to better reflect their own prejudices. But whilst the UMP flounders on the right and the centre has all but disappeared, the Socialists should continue to stake out the centre left, and mop up the significant number of votes available there.

3. Future electoral defeats

What goes up must come down. Defeats when you have won everything are inevitable. How the government reacts to the defeats however will be key. The danger comes from three directions: the Party, which will clamour for some (any) change to react to the defeats; those unfortunates who lose their political positions in the elections (in particular the likely bloodbath in local government in 2014) who will want to blame the government for their own defeats; and the media who will build a narrative of defeat and chaos within the government because, well, it’s something to do.

There is no easy answer to any of those pressures, apart from sticking to a message of calm confidence. None of those issues matter to the power of the government, which is secure for five years. Much has been made of the fact that local government is largely pink and that this helps the government in implementing their programme. Utter rubbish. Whilst local government can be a nuisance for central government, they cannot block laws nor delay their implementation and the pink mayors and councillors had zero effect on Nicolas Sarkozy’s programme (which included abolishing a chunk of them).

The government’s handling of the past couple of weeks of more hostile coverage has been interesting: there is certainly a base of quiet confidence that permeates their approach. The Trierweiller twit has disappeared from view (and appears to have had no dramatic impact on the President or the government). German intransigence is not being blamed on Hollande. Even the impending new tax hikes and the disappointment of the left over the likely rise in the minimum wage appears nothing more than a flash in the pan, or somehow strangely disconnected from the President and his government.

And so it would seem that the honeymoon continues for now.


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