Reset

The sense that a fundamental change was coming had been growing week after week, after Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French Presidential election last month.  Like tectonic plates shifting and crumbling around a new eruption pushing them apart, the left and the right, just as they had been edged out by Macron’s En Marche movement (On the Move), began to give way to the newly baptised La République en Marche (the Republic on the Move, or LREM for short).

The conservative Republicans (“LR”) had busily prepared for a cohabitation with President Macron, putting forward the baby-faced but bass-voiced François Baroin as their Prime Minister-to-be.  Their hastily concocted party platform, which differed significantly from that of their now disavowed Presidential candidate, François Fillon, flopped and their campaign stuttered.  Their confidence at the beginning of the campaign now looks like hubris.

On the left, the Socialists (“PS”) hoped and prayed that, by painting the Macron government as conservative, the left would flock to the polls to “correct” the Presidential vote, while quietly shelving Benoit Hamon’s platform and putting his under-performance down to the candidate’s personal failings.  Instead what little support they had appears to have either decamped to LREM or stayed at home.

Last Sunday was just the first round – where the top two candidates (plus anyone who gets over 12.5% of the electoral roll) go through to a run-off this Sunday – but already the picture is clear.  Whilst LR finds itself likely reduced to a rump of 70 to 110 seats, the PS is almost completely wiped out, likely to secure only 20 to 30 seats.  The far left and far right also under-performed their Presidential scores.  The Greens will be totally absent from the chamber.  LREM will reign supreme with between 415 and 455 seats – way over the majority of 289 seats which a party needs to govern without other parties.

With perhaps as many as 43% of deputies being female, two thirds of deputies being first timers in the National Assembly, and a range of ethnic minorities present for the first time, this new parliament will be significantly different to any before.  But the political effects resulting from the LREM hegemony may be even more significant. Continue reading

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Happy Anniversary

It has been a little over a year since the election of France’s second Socialist president. However, now that the left occupy the executive and legislative branches, there seems to be some buyer’s remorse.  Whilst few would have predicted that the return of the left to power would be at a time of economic crisis, social turbulence and an opposition both more divided and more visceral than ever before, added to that are historically low approval ratings, making a dangerous cocktail.

This first anniversary of the Socialist administration has been met with an orgy of circumspection, analysis, debating and soul-searching on the left, the right and centre as to the meaning to be found in the first year of this new Socialist government.  The right has characterised the first year as a “total failure”, with the country verging on collapse. The centre has largely tacked with the right. The far left has screeched at broken promises and betrayal. But where does the truth lies in all of this? Continue reading

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

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