Friday, November 17, 2006

The implications of Sego...

Interesting times over the Channel, as Segolene Royal wallops her opponents on the left, Fabius and Strauss-Kahn, and takes the Socialist nomination for the Presidency. While it goes a little way to showing that the French left hasn't succumbed to the head-in-the-sand insanity that overwhelmed the British conservatives it does also have wider implications for the future of France.

The first is the implication for the right (or what passes for it in France). It should be clear that they have absolutely no option but to choose Nicolas Sarkozy of they want to avoid defeat. De Villepin, for all his aristocratic appeal and Napoleonic panache is pure electoral poison, while the proposal, seriously mooted by some, that L'Escroc himself should try to hold on for another term, presumably to avoid having to change the pin-stripes on his suits to arrows , should surely be dismissed as lunacy. The election should, therefore, be between Sarkozy and Royal.

The second key implication is for the left itself. Whatever Sego turns out to be, and she has been following the Cameron technique of saying little and looking different and fresh, she does not appear to be quite as ideologically calcified as her opponents. This may mean that some sacred cows can finally be slain. She has certainly been prepared to criticise public sector Unions: not a noted tendency on the left in any country.

Perhaps the most welcome effect of her nomination, provided it co-incides with Sarkozy on the right, is the probable marginalisation of Le Pen's Front National. So much was made of his making the second round last time, and on speculation that this time his time might have come, that the main reason he made it has been overlooked. If the Left was divided and weak, offering a variety of uninspired candidates, none of whom caught the imagination or provided anything but more of the same, or, worse, more of the old it is not surprising that a fringe candidate's 20% or so might eclipse them. If Royal can unite the left, she ought to be able to kick Le Pen into touch. Equally, on the right, if Sarkozy is nominated he ought to appeal to those on the right who, reaonably, disliked Chirac and wanted a tougher social line. Without appealing to the racist side of FN support, Sarkozy shouldbe able to squeeze its vote. I would be surprised if Le Pen did as well in the next election as in the last, and astonished if he were to make it to the second round.

The final point is one I have made frequently before. Both Royal and Sarkozy have acquired a reputation of freshness, of newness and of difference. This sets them out from the grey-suited herd of politicians, giving them a touch of stardust. It is what Blair had, and what Cameron has, that sets them apart from Gordon Brown, who painfully lacks it. It is, however, not remotely true for either of them. Both Sarkozy and Royal are career politicians. Royal has been in active politics for nearly 30 years. Sarkozy similarly. It is, in other words, a created political narrative that seems to imbue them with the most valuable political asset of all: freshness and difference. Count the number of times people say that the election of Royal (or Sarkozy) heralds 'a new era for French politics' or that they 'are a breath of fresh air' to the stale of scene. It's intoxicating, but it's untrue. Post modern politics.


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