Christiane Taubira, Superstar

Watch out Sego, there is a new star in town. Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira was due this afternoon to speak to a group of 100 on ending the Sarkozian approach to crime and punishment. Five times that turned up and she was duly upgraded to the same auditorium that Manuel Valls, Interior Minister, spoke in several hours beforehand, the crowd packed into the room. Few we’re there for the debate, which was a somewhat lazy presentation of the end of the right’s policies on justice. Most were there to hear her, and we were not disappointed. Continue reading

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The Cultural Hegemony

The cultural exception is a fundamental principle of French public policy, to the extent that to criticise it will result in a torrent of criticism, if not derision. Lobbies will move against you, doors will close and your attempt to shift the debate will have stalled, as much as an argument to privatise the National Health Service in the UK or abolish the second amendment in the US would.

Behind this quasi-philosophical term lies a series of policies that provide protectionist measures for media and cultural undertakings against foreign competition, whether it is the acquisition of French television channels by US broadcasters, or the heavy subsidies paid to French film producers. Given the current threats to the model in which the French place so much trust (and a considerable mount of taxpayers’ money), how has the Socialist government fared in its goal to make the French even more cultured? Continue reading

The Royalist Party

What is this power that Segolene Royal has over the base of the Socialist Party? As I tweeted, she received a standing ovation that is likely to far outweigh that afforded to other speakers, perhaps even the Prime Minister, who speaks tomorrow morning. In contrast to the other big female hitter in the government, Christiane Taubira, about which more is said here, she also manages to unify strands of the party base in a way that no one else can.

It wasn’t always thus. This was the big comeback. After a year absent from La Rochelle, she was reminding us all, and in particular the party chiefs, that she remains a force to be reckoned with. In 2012, her dreams of becoming Speaker of the National Assembly were shredded by a defeat in the legislative elections when Olivier Falorni, former local party leader in La Rochelle, stood against her and won, thanks to a general Rochelais sense of independence (see the history here!) and an anti-Royal campaign by the right. That followed a humiliating score in the open primary in 2011, where she made the tearful discovery that the general public (at least, those who voted in the primary) had turned the Royal page and no longer saw her as a Présidentiable. She retreated, as in 2007 following her unsuccessful presidential run, to her region of Poitou-Charentes, and it was in this capacity that she welcomed us yesterday with a striking speech. I sat there thinking, “why is this woman not in the government or running the party?”. And then she reminded me.

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The Lands of Far, Far Away

Somewhere between foreign policy and the home front, lies the question of governing the overseas territories of France. Like the UK, France has retained a link with far flung territories acquired through years of empire. Unlike the UK however, France retains a strong cultural and political link with these territories, with some being treated as wholly part of the mainland, irrespective of the thousands of miles that separate them.

In the popular imagination, these lands are idyllic paradises, full of happy smiling people (waiters and waitresses for the large part). But real people live there: 2.6 million of them.

For many years, the Dom-Tom (the acronym describing both overseas departments and territories – denominating different levels of autonomy enjoyed by the region in question), now evolving into Dom-Com, enjoyed the benefits of vertiginous growth, albeit from an extraordinarily low base. However the economic crisis has hit these territories hard, and social unrest has broken out in many. When unemployment reaches 30%, and even 60% amongst the under 25 years, how can France save these territories, when it seems powerless to save itself?

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One Year On – Another Weekend By The Sea

The Socialists’ Summer Conference last year was a big hit. Turnout was high, the mood was upbeat, and the glow of victory lit up proceedings. A series of crowd pleasing measures in an extraordinary session of Parliament the month before had given the party faithful, firmly anchored for the majority on the left of the party, something to believe in. One year on was always going to be more complicated.

The train ride from Paris to La Rochelle is an exercise in understanding France’s cultural and industrial makeup. Concrete suburbs, factories, the odd nuclear power plant, give way as the tran heads south and west to rolling fields, medieval towns perched upon hills and lazy hamlets where everyone seems to have a plot of land to farm.

The journey is a reminder of the complex makeup of the country and therefore the competing interest groups. The party members here have, for a large part, made a similar journey to me, an a certain fly-over (to borrow the American political expression) mentality is obvious. Questions of town planning and cultural policy are popular; agricultural issues (unless we are talking organic produce) less so.

This year’s conference began with something of a media cacophony over its alleged poor organisation. Turbulence continues to swirl around the somewhat hapless First Secretary of the Party, the likeable, but somewhat out of his depth, Harlem Desir. The programme reflects some of these concerns, being in places a retread of last year’s issues, with a lot of retrospectives on the last year in power (indicating that this conference is perhaps less about getting the message out to the country, but more to convince the party membership that the whole thing has been worth it). There are also fewer “intellectuals” (not an insult in France…) although the welcome addition of a handful of minister and members from the other parties of the left brings a little diversity to an otherwise familiar crowd.

Whilst turnout is down (perhaps a third of last year’s attendees aren’t here) the youth movement, the MJS continues to grow. However there is a febrile sense in the air. The next year brings the local elections, which most seem to assume will be a bloodbath for the socialists. Many of the membership here are close to someone, or themselves, hold elected office. They expect to be out of job next year, with the additional indignity of watching a National Front councillor take their place.

And yet the sun shines on La Rochelle so blissfully, the cafés and restaurants are full and last night the Vieux Port was packed with tourists and party members, enjoying the last weekend of summer. But they can’t help thinking about what this year will bring.