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article imageOp-Ed: Sigh of relief as infighting continues for French Socialists

By Michael Cosgrove     Nov 28, 2010 in Politics
The French were shocked to learn last week that its bitterly divided and acrimony-prone Socialist Party leaders had buried the hatchet and adopted a consensual approach to their upcoming primaries. But all ended well as the peace lasted just 24 hours.
“Yes, I know I vote Socialist, but I’m getting treatment for it and taking my medicines.”
Such has been the state of disarray of French Socialists over the last ten years that they even joke about it themselves. Many books have been written by Socialist politicians in an attempt to analyze why they can’t stop squabbling, the most famous of which is called ‘The stupidest left-wing in the world?’ It recapitulates the strategic errors and other mistakes which mean that the left hasn’t won any of the last three presidential elections and has hardly seen a Prime Minister in power in twenty years. The conclusion – which any college kid could have worked out – is that the party needs a compass, a map, and a direction.
Reasons for this in terms of personalities include the woeful Lionel Jospin, who managed the impossible in leading his campaign in such an ineffectual manner that he got the Socialists kicked out of the presidential race by the fascist National Front in the first-round ballot. Also, the awfully inept Ségolène Royal (the French equivalent of Sarah Palin) made so many gaffes during her frightfully bad campaign that she lost what all agree was the “un-losable election" to Nicolas Sarkozy.
They are also set to lose the next election too if they don’t get their act together soon, and the country has been having a great time reading about the daily spats and cat-fights amongst the potential candidates as they scramble inelegantly to secure the nomination.
In an attempt to better control the disorder, the party leadership decided that this time they would hold US-style primaries to choose their candidate instead of using the usual free-for-all method, and the public were just beginning to rub their hands together in anticipation of the inevitable conniving alliances and deals that would result from this choice of nominative method when a bombshell suddenly and unexpectedly exploded, a bombshell which seemed set to spoil the bloodbath everyone was expecting.
Party leader Martine Aubry announced out of the blue last Wednesday to a horrified France that there would be no fighting this time because the three major candidates - Aubry herself, current IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and (some people just never seem to learn their lessons) Ségolène Royal - had all agreed to cooperate on choosing the candidate in a coordinated and peaceful manner. Talk about party-pooping.
No crusty scandals? No backstabbing? No double-dealing? The country, visibly shaken, went into instant mourning at the loss of its favorite political soap-opera-cum-reality-show-cum-comedy-act all rolled into one. Nothing could have done more to ruin the atmosphere in this country, in which bitter and vicious political debate is an integral part of daily life. A 24-hour lull in the fighting ensued.
The next morning however, small ‘latest news’ items began creeping into the press about Royal’s ex-boyfriend and outsider candidate François Holland. They discreetly related his declaration that he was not happy with the “undemocratic” peace pact because it would mean that the big three would carve up the vote between them and squeeze him out. Could this be a glimmer of hope? Then – oh joy! - his reasoning was emulated by fellow-outsiders Manuel Valls and Arnaud Montebourg later in the day. They denounced what they called a “lock-out” of all candidates but the big three. France went to bed on Thursday evening with faint hopes that the skirmishes may turn into all-out hostilities.
And indeed, rescue finally did come the next morning in the shape guessed right..Ségolène Royal. The Socialists’ most troublesome element (she is the French equivalent to Sarah Palin - gaffes included) finally came charging into the arena in a blaze of lights and fanfares to announce that there was no pact which would present the big three as a “truly united candidature” which would ensure that there wouldn’t be “one against the other” scenarios as Aubry had said. Royal unilaterally (as usual) declared that the pact didn't exist and that “there is ambiguity in what was said when it was said that we would agree to agree before the primaries. No, nobody is forbidding themselves to be {an individual} candidate for the primaries, including myself.”
This was the moment everyone had been dreaming of. There was no big three, no peace pact, no deal. Aubry’s supporters tried to play Royal’s words down of course, but it was too late. The news was out and it spread like wildfire. Things would soon be back to normal and let battle recommence after this unwelcome truce.
And so Saturday’s papers were full of the usual insinuations of big egos and furious debate. Party second-in-command Harlem Désir warned against “participating in the noisy clash of egos with their noise and fury which have upset the patient efforts of our grass-roots comrades and we have alienated the French people too often. The French expect us to deliver propositions, credibility and audacity in order that we invent the post-Sarkozy era.” This made wonderful reading for all, and that wasn’t all.
Another prominent Socialist, Razzy Hammadi, said that he was “very worried” about these divisions, adding that “We said at first that ‘we’re going to organize primaries to avoid mayhem’ but now the primaries themselves are the mayhem.”
Exactly Mr Hammadi, exactly, and your words are precisely what the French wanted to hear. You have made their day, it’s back to business as usual and we can all look forward to more fun and games in the days and months to come.
Phew, that was a close call. Peace within the Socialists’ ranks? Thanks but no thanks..
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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