A weekend by the sea, part four: Culturally speaking

For all intents and purposes, the French Socialist Party invented cultural public policy. Before 1982, the cultural portfolio consisted largely of ensuring that Versailles and other national monuments didn’t crumble too much.  Now the question is how can it be rebuilt following 10 years of hostility by a right wing government towards government funding of the arts and culture.  And if so, what should it look like? Continue reading

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A weekend by the sea, part three: Plastic Carrots and Paper Sticks

Since their creation as organised movements in the latter half of the 19th century, political parties have depended on a measure of discipline within the ranks to maintain their structure. Whether appointed in smoke filled rooms or elected by powerful union backers or just e membership, the leader’s legitimacy was to be respected and their decisions implemented without question for the good of the party. The American political system, now so dependent on the two party system, used to be a prime example of this trade off: everyone gets to shout, but when the top take the decision, the bottom quietens down.

But something has gone wrong with this system in French politics. The malaise in party discipline can also be seen in the US and the UK. Political parties are struggling to adapt to the new relationship between the base and the leadership. This weekend at La Rochelle however, after an embarrassing defeat in this very town during the legislative elections, the party cadres seem to have recognised that it’s time to reassess the old means of control over the members. Continue reading

A weekend by the sea, part two: The return of substance

To the outside observer (as I am) the French media seems obsessed with matters of style. This is perhaps unsurprising in a country where aesthetics are considered to be part of the nation’s identity. French food, architecture, the language and fashion all give stock to the idea that how you say something is as important (if not, sometimes, more important) that what you say. Political commentary, during the Sarkozy era, was no different. But now, after a flurry of unoriginal, repetitive articles over the slow summer on the change of style in the new government of France, substance has returned to the fore. But this is not the result of a collective maturation of the chattering classes, but simply the exhaustion of style: for France no longer has a stylish government. Continue reading

A weekend by the sea: part one

Every year for the past two decades, the French Socialist Party holds its summer conference (dubbed a Summer University, to differentiate it from the Party Congresses held every few years which vote on policy and the party leadership) in the Atlantic resort of La Rochelle. I’m here for the weekend to participate in what is designed to be a studious series of workshops and presents tins on the issues of the day. This is however the first conference in ten years where half the government is here. So what use is three days of chatter at the seaside in the dieing days of summer?

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Socialist Summer Conference

I’ll be blogging from the Socialist Party Summer Conference in La Rochelle this weekend. So far, the lack of published programme would indicate that there is the usual debate about who speaks in the prestigious opening and closing slots, but at least it is clear that at least one person won’t be attending…

UPDATE: the programme is now published, with some surprising omissions. Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg, Culture Minister Aurelie Fillipetti and Education Minister Vincent Peillon are all absent, as are any discussions about their portfolios. The lack of a discussion about the digital economy or creative industries is alarming. Some of the subjects appear to be fillers (a couple of political films, a review of the 2012 election results…). But a whopping two hours is given over to the Prime Minister speaking. The weather forecast predicts storms this weekend in La Rochelle. It didn’t say if this was inside or outside the conference hall.

The Right Way

As the UMP conservative party licks its wounds, after bequeathing the nation’s first one term President since the 1970s and a defeat in parliament which has led to the Socialists having an absolute majority in their own right, a battle has broken out within the senior ranks of the party. It’s a battle to write the history of the Sarkozy years and to shape the party’s direction going into the next campaign in 2014, but more importantly, the run for the Presidency in 2017.

Let’s review the players and work out what role this “New UMP” will play, and what the Socialists will do in response. Continue reading

Taxing Overtime

It is perhaps strange to foreign observers that French politicians have become so passionate about a seemingly technocratic aspect of tax policy: whether or not overtime hours worked by employees should be taxed in the same way as normal pay.  And yet last night’s parliamentary debate had to be suspended due to the level of vitriol that each side hurled at each other.  What we are seeing is not merely an argument over the contents of the delightfully named article L 241-17 of the Social Security Code, but the whole point of tax policy itself. Continue reading