A Party in Agony

On Sunday, members of the centre-right UMP party went to the polls to choose their new party leader. The winner would become the unofficial leader of the opposition for the next five years and a front-runner for the 2017 Presidential campaign. Results were expected Sunday night, but despite a victory speech late that night from underdog and current party chief, Jean-François Copé, on Monday morning the results were still too close to call.

On Monday evening the Party machine announced that Copé had won, but by a razor-thin margin of 0.03% (98 votes). But in light of accusations of the stuffing of ballot boxes on both sides, François Fillon’s threat to go to the courts to have the result overturned and the startling admission by the Party itself that its apparently final tally left off three overseas federations, the Party is still in chaos.

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Impressing the Press

The French press are an impressively febrile bunch.  Like the British press (although they would never admit stooping so low) they love to build up only to knock down.  Nicolas Sarkozy’s roller-coaster ride, from golden boy in 2002 to the devil in 2012, was more extreme than most.  The general impression one has from looking at a broad cross-section of the French press in its coverage of François Hollande is disappointment, and a little boredom.  The new President isn’t sexy or dynamic.  Even his controversial partner has turned out to be better behaved than they had anticipated.

And so this week’s Presidential press conference was a key test for Hollande.  He didn’t simply have to convey his message to those who were watching at home, but to the most important constituency in modern politics: the Presidential corps of journalists.  So how did he do? Continue reading

The Gingrich Maneuver

Newt Gingrich ran for the Republican Party nomination this election cycle, and, despite being tipped for a brief period, eventually ran out of money and ended his campaign.  Before doing so, however, he had become one of the most effective and powerful voices of criticism against Mitt Romney, the eventual unsuccessful candidate.  Gingrich went on to support Romney (of course) but his advocacy for the Republican ticket was forever tainted by the memories of his previous attacks.

The vote for leader of the French conservative opposition UMP party is due this Sunday, and the two candidates are busy ripping chunks out of each other in a much more personal competition that anyone had anticipated.  The front-runner, François Fillon, is trying hard to stay above the mud slinging (his surrogates are trying less hard…), but underdog Jean-François Copé is adopting the Gingrich Maneuver: attack hard and personal.  But the same fate that belied Mr Gingrich could very well reward Mr Copé for his efforts.  Will Copé really damage the UMP in the way Gingrich bruised the GOP, and will the electoral fate be the same? Continue reading

With Friends Like These…

In the run up to the Presidential election, messy bargaining was undertaken by the parties on the political left.  The dominant force and favourite to win power, the Socialists, needed to shore up their base by bringing in some of the far left and the Greens.  Deals were done with the Greens, and un uneasy understanding was reached with the Communists.  The remaining archipelago of leftist groups agreed tacitly not to grumble too much, but then they remain largely muted outside of the Presidential campaign.  Today that coalition of the unenthusiastic seems to be crumbling.  How can the Socialists keep them on side; and should they even try? Continue reading

Leadership Elections for the UMP (or the battle for the lowest common denominator)

The two big beasts of the conservative right are battling for the leadership of the UMP, the centre-right party of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy and the unofficial leader of the opposition.  The party will select its new leader in less than two weeks, and won’t pick its future Presidential candidate for another three years, but already the race is set to define the UMP’s strategy to opposing President Hollande’s administration.

And so far, it has not been an edifying sight. Continue reading

Competing over Competitiveness

And so Louis finally handed in his report.  Mr Gallois, who faced, as I have blogged previously, the difficult decision of what medicine to prescribe to an obviously ill patient, published his report on French competitiveness yesterday.  The report was met with suspicion by trades-union, acclaim by the right, the centre and employers’ associations, and consternation by the government.

Ruled out immediately was the suggestion to pursue research into shale gas – a big no-no for the Greens.  However the key measure – finding some other source of financing the social security system by reducing employers’ and employees’ payroll taxes by 20 and 10 million euros respectively – has no become an unquestioned dogma in French politics.  The question is how to pay for it.  So who will the government stick with the bill? Continue reading

Cresson Syndrome

Edith Cresson is a watchword in French politics for bumbling incompetence.  The much-maligned former Prime Minister (her tenure lasted less than one year from 1991 to 1992) and scandal-ridden European Commissioner managed to accumulate gaffe after gaffe in her short career, alienating supporters and enraging opponents.  Now, with the current Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, spending a whole day backpedaling from a confusing comment on abolishing the 35 hour working week, the knives are out in the media and the opposition for a Prime Minister whose “Cressonisation” is apparently accelerating.  Is the Prime Minister really about to fall, leading to a dissolution of the National Assembly and a return of the right, as predicted by Jean-Louis Borloo? Continue reading