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

A weekend by the sea: part one

Every year for the past two decades, the French Socialist Party holds its summer conference (dubbed a Summer University, to differentiate it from the Party Congresses held every few years which vote on policy and the party leadership) in the Atlantic resort of La Rochelle. I’m here for the weekend to participate in what is designed to be a studious series of workshops and presents tins on the issues of the day. This is however the first conference in ten years where half the government is here. So what use is three days of chatter at the seaside in the dieing days of summer?

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