Left weak and divided in France By Seumas Milne - Friday 25th March 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/25/left-weak-and-divided-in-france.html

BY any normal reckoning, the French Left should be on the verge of an electoral breakthrough. Nicolas Sarkozy is the most unpopular president in the 50-or so-year history of France’s fifth republic. Damned as the bling-bling ‘president of the rich’ who championed the market on the eve of its greatest crisis in the post-war era, barely one in five thinks he’s doing a good job.
There is even speculation that he may not stand for a second term. And whatever bounce the embattled president might derive from his role as a war leader in the Libyan conflict is thought unlikely to last.
But although the main opposition Socialist party led the field in countrywide local elections last Sunday with 25 per cent of the vote, while Sarkozy’s centre-right Union for a Popular Movement scored a humiliating 17 per cent, it was the far-right National Front that registered the strongest advance, coming in less than two percentage points behind the ruling party.
Already the Sarkozy camp is in disarray about how to respond to the Front’s success, having failed to win back supporters with attacks on multiculturalism, an anti-Roma migrant campaign and a legal ban on the Islamic face veil. In some polls, the Front’s new leader, Marine Le Pen, was ranked second for the crucial runoff in next year’s presidential elections.
But Le Pen has rebuilt the Front’s fortunes not only on the back of anti-immigration and Islamophobic incitement at a time of record youth unemployment, insecurity and squeezed living standards. She has also been stealing the Left’s clothes on public services, social protection, neoliberal globalisation and the ‘ultra-liberal ideology of financial capitalism’, even invoking the names of historic French communist leaders such as Maurice Thorez to appeal to working-class voters alienated from what they see as a Tweedledum-Tweedledee political establishment.
Such a pitch is aimed at mining a deep-seated radical strain in French public opinion. For example, in a recent poll 43 per cent said they thought free-market capitalism was ‘fatally flawed’ and should be replaced with a different economic system, more than in any other country surveyed — and six out of 10 said this month they would like to see a ‘revolt’ over social and economic problems. It’s that kind of sentiment that has been repeatedly mobilised by the Left on the streets, most recently in last autumn’s wave of strikes and mass protests against Sarkozy’s pension reforms.
But turning that into electoral success, or radical reform when the Left has been in office, has been another matter. As Annick Coupe of the leftist Solidaires trade unions puts it: “There is a very strong feeling of injustice, but people don’t see a clear alternative.” Like New Labour in Britain, the French socialists are widely regarded as having implemented similar neoliberal policies to the parties of the Right, such as privatisation and European liberalisation. Polls show more than two-thirds of French voters believe the mainstream Left and Right have become increasingly alike.
That has been seized on by the smaller parties of the Left and fed into the battle to be next year’s Socialist presidential candidate. But paradoxically, the favourite is now Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, architect of the French Socialist privatisation programme in the late 1990s, Blair-like champion of globalisation, friend of wealthy media proprietors and the epitome of the cosy political establishment that so alienates the French public.
Current polling nevertheless shows DSK — as he is known in France — beating Sarkozy by 61 per cent to 39 per cent if he stands. Part of the attraction seems to be his presidential style, and part the silence induced by his IMF role that protects him from the mud-wrestling of French politics. But his support also appears to feed on itself.
Strauss-Kahn seems certain to tack left if the time comes. But whether his reputation will survive the party’s new US-style primaries — expected to include Segolene Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, her ex-husband Francois Hollande and perhaps the more traditional Martine Aubry — is another question. — The Guardian, London

No comments:

Post a Comment