Choosing the Boss

The Socialists’ have always enjoyed needlessly complicated internal procedures, both to govern the party day-to-day, and to make the biggest decision for a political party, the choice of leader.  Put aside concerns about the cult of personality and the importance of the grassroots, issues that the left perennially frets over, and results in them choosing dreadful leaders.  The leader gives momentum, political direction and visibility to a political party.

Following an attempt to streamline the process and avoid the messiness of a bitterly contested vote that was the consequence of the Reims party conference in 2008, the Party is choosing a leader this year under new rules.  That the new rules could allow the outgoing team to pick their successors was not something that the party members had in mind back in 2008.  But it seems it was at the forefront of Martine Aubry’s thinking.  Now that the party cadres have chosen Harlem Desir as the next leader, members will rubber-stamp this decision in a vote next month.  How did the party that brought the open primary election to France end up using its membership as an echo chamber for the choice of leader? Continue reading

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A weekend by the sea, part five: Rebuilding neighbourhoods

There is a dirty word in French that looks, to English speakers, totally harmless: the “neighbourhood”. But look at the lyrics of any American rap song and you’ll understand the meaning to French ears: the “‘hood” is something to be feared by those who don’t live there and a badge of pride (even mired in poverty and crime) for those that do.

At the heart of Nicolas Sarkozy’s new approach to crime and public safety in 2002, when he became Interior Minister, was an attitude of confrontation with the evils that existed in the neighbourhoods (particularly the suburbs around major French cities that grew at a head-spinning pace in the 1960s and 70s when France built large concrete blocks at low-cost in a brutalist style to house its new immigrant workers). These neighbourhoods have become leitmotifs for everything that has gone wrong in society: racism, crime, drugs, disappearance of public services and social exclusion.  Given that countless governments since the 1970s have sought to tackle these problems to no avail, can the first Socialist government in 10 years do any better? Continue reading