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

Advertisements

The Death of the Conservative Right

images (2)Since the impressively well-organised demonstrations against equal marriage in Paris November and January last, there has been a worrying radicalisation of the anti-equal marriage movement. Around the opponents of this one issue have has developed a heteroclite range of different right-wing extremist groups who are using the issue both to recruit members and to conduct a wider political attack against the new socialist administration.

The development of these movements has been facilitated by the reticence of those on the right to criticise their behaviour. Both the UMP and the National Front have used these new extremist organisations as their frontline in an aggressive new form of opposition to Francois Hollande and his government. How has an impeccably democratic country come to have an opposition which relies on quasi-paramilitary forces in order to advance its criticisms of the government today? Continue reading

Abstaining for the Future

4843652Both Nathalie Koscuisko-Morizet and Bruno Le Maire abstained in the recent vote for the Equal Marriage Bill before the French National Assembly.  Both explained their reasons as being less about equal rights for gay couples (which both profess to support) but more about issues to do with children’s rights and the issue of the use of the word “marriage”.  Both of course are vulnerable to arguments that children’s rights are traditionally only separated from parents’ rights in the case of dangerous parents (ergo, a gay parent is a dangerous parent…) and the “separate but equal” status for gay couples is simply offensive.

But both profess to be the modern, progressive wing of the UMP conservative right.  They have joined forces before, claiming that the confrontation between François Fillon and Jean-François Copé in the battle for the leadership of the UMP would be destructive.  They were of course right.

But the war on the right shows no signs of subsiding.  Given this backdrop of bitter infighting, what are their chances of breaking through and forming the new opposition to the Socialist government? Continue reading

If Wishes Were Fishes…

President Hollande perhaps on the lookout for a few wishes of his own…then we would all cast nets in the sea.  Perhaps this phrase above all others is on the French government’s mind as they contemplate what 2013 might bring.  It has been called the Year of all the Dangers by even their friends.

And yet the executive in France is in a privileged position, able, if it chooses, to guide political discourse and shape the beginning of the year due to both its constitutional power (it holds a large majority in the National Assembly, a slim relative majority in the Senate, and the majority of large municipal and regional councils) and the unique “Wishes Season” that dominates the month of January.  So what should the government use its wishes for?

Continue reading

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.

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