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?
Communists and Socialists: Je t’aime, moi non plus
The relationship between the various parties on the left of the political spectrum in France has never been a harmonious one. The fractious nature of the more extreme groups contributes to the turbulent nature of any agreements or coalitions that are formed. The Communists, long a dominant force in leftist politics, have gradually declined to something close to insignificance at the national level, but they continue to hold sway in town halls across the country, with 1,857 council seats, and 21 Senate seats (Senators are chosen by an electoral college dominated by local councillors). Faced with a Left Party, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon who is leading the charge against the Socialist government’s economic reforms, the Communists are struggling to survive as an independent force.
Perhaps that is why they, after a brief period of supporting the ousting of Nicolas Sarkozy without going so far as endorsing President Hollande, have begun to flex their political muscles. First came the rejection in the Senate of a reform of energy bills to create a progressive system of bonuses for energy-saving measures, that the Communists claimed would penalise tenants in old properties, the Communists voting the bill down with the conservative opposition. Then came the rejection of the budgetary programme for the coming years, again with the conservatives. Now the Communists are railing against the reforms announced in response to the Gallois Report as being a give-a-way for businesses. Pierre Laurent, the new General Secretary of the Communists denies that his party have shifted into the opposition. The Socialists are sceptical, but in any event, given the events of the first Mitterrand term, where the Communists left government in disagreement over economic policy, never counted on Communist support for long.
The Greens: An instinct to oppose
More problematic are the Greens. Following an electoral pact between Greens and Socialists, which was criticised as a “sell-out” by the then Green Presidential candidate, Eva Joly, the Greens, who risked being wiped out by their poor electoral performance by Joly, managed to garner 17 MPs (after a 10-year absence from the National Assembly). They also agreed to enter government, being given two ministries: Housing and Territorial Equality and International Development. Former Green party leader, Cecil Duflot, has become a prominent figure in the government (not always for the right reasons, but she has at least the merit of resonating with the public), although her frustration at towing the cabinet line is sometimes too obvious.
The Greens were also new comers to the Senate in 2011, with 10 seats thanks to the electoral pact. Now the leader of the Greens in the Senate, Jean-Vincent Placé, who was ostentatiously working the room at the Socialists Summer Conference, has said aloud what many Greens have been mumbling: what exactly are they in government for? His concerns stem chiefly from the Gallois Report reforms which, he feels, fail to require businesses to make the ever-vaunted “ecological transformation” of the economy.
The First Steps Towards the Door
Now even the President seems to be anticipating the Greens’ departure – perhaps to indicate that he doesn’t see this as a menace to his government’s stability. In fact the Green ministers’ departure might provide a welcome opportunity to shore up the Socialists by bringing in some more big Socialist beasts to the government. Others have attempted to calm the situation. Harlem Désir, the new Socialist party leader, described Placé’s comments as personal remarks. The official spokesman of the Greens has confirmed that Placé wasn’t giving the party line on their role in government. The UMP have predictably piled in to claim the government is on the verge of collapse, once again proving their talent for following the news rather than leading it.
One imagines Duflot’s fury at the news cycle being occupied by a 24 hour story about government being held hostage by her ilk. She must (or should) be seriously considering her departure from the party to remain in government if the situation in her party worsens. For the Communists, any further political arrangements to maintain their artificially high representation in the Senate should be reviewed by the Socialists. It is no longer a political imperative to support a party likely to be consumed by the rest of the far left in the medium term. The next Senatorial elections in 2014 give the Socialists a window of opportunity to negotiate the terms of any understanding that the Communists are prepared to consider. If not, the Communists should be left to the electorate.
Uniting or Governing
Socialists have long yearned to unite the left. Part of this is political imperative, as the left has historically been more fragmented than the right and the electoral maths required coalition building. But it is also philosophical: the universalism that pervades traditional Socialism still holds sway over the party. The one-day-story of Placé is an indication of a greater malaise within the Greens about compromise. The voting record of the Communists shows the same problem. Put simply, Greens and Communists don’t compromise, they ideologise.
Sadly for them, the cold reality of government requires compromise, and not just between parties of the left, but across the political spectrum. That is intolerable to the majority of extremist ecologists and leftists. If they cannot stand the stench of governing, they should retreat to the back benches, where they can heckle with the right. And the Socialists should let them go.