The French Socialist party: a strong fight for a coming irrelevancy
The last “primary” debate, Wednesday January 23rd, between Manuel Valls and Benoît Hamon, proved to be in line with the expectations that had been formed. It confirms the total lack of substance in the program of both candidates. Benoît Hamon has largely drawn in the program of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and sprinkled it with sad banalities on secularism. Manuel Valls encamped in his position of former PM, but not without ogling obviously towards Emmanuel Macron. This debate has therefore verified what has been thought of for several weeks. The only winners of this “primary” will be those who have not participated in it, be they Jean-Luc Mélenchon who sees his strategy amply validated or Emmanuel Macron.
But this “primary” is a good benchmark of the declining spiral in which the Socialist Party is engaged. This has been aggravated by what the newspaper Le Monde calls “bumps” that occurred during the count of the 1st round votes of January 22. There are concordant indications that one can speak on this subject at best of lightness, at worst of manipulation. The head of the “high authority” who supervised this “primary”, Mr. Thomas Clay, announced nearly 2 million by Sunday, January 22nd, at 8:35 pm. Christophe Borgel, chairman of the organizing committee, was to acknowledge errors and merely announce, on Monday 23, 1.6 million voters at the end of the count. Participation was therefore very low. Recall that in 2011 the first round of the “primary” PS saw 2.7 million voters move, and that in the first round of the “primary” of the Right and Center, recorded 4.3 Million voters. This reflects the voters’ lack of interest in the political offer put forward by the Socialist Party.
This “primary” therefore saw Manuel Valls, who assumed to be Prime Minister for many years and who was the only one to defend the “balance” of the government and the Holland Presidency, to suffer a failure by being distanced from near 5% by Benoît Hamon. Having garnered only 31% of votes on his name and project, Manuel Valls can thus measure to what extent it is discredited. No one can say whether he will succeed in reversing the trend for the second round, where many things depend, precisely, on the participation rate. The “surprise”, lay in the breakthrough of Benoît Hamon, and the collapse of Arnaud Montebourg. The latter pays, principle and interest, the vagaries and errors of his campaign. His various missteps on the sovereignty issue dismissed those of his potential voters who had supported him in 2011. Conversely, Benoît Hamon’s breakthrough can be explained by a dynamic campaign, but also – and perhaps most importantly – by the rallying under the hand of the faction represented by Martine Aubry, who was determined to make Manuel Valls and Francois Hollande pay all the insults she had suffered at their hands. Benoît Hamon reveals on the occasion of this “primary” that he is above all a man of networks, more interested in the play of different currents than by the problems of funds.
This “primary” leaves then two victors. Emmanuel Macron is reinforced in his strategic choice of refusal to participate. He may believe that his project could be attractive to part of the Socialist electorate. But, he always turns out as little more than the candidate of the establishment, of the bankers and generally speaking of the globalized elites. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, too, has seen his strategy reinforced.
On the substance, this “primary” endorses the decadence of the “S”. The rise of what is called populism actually turns out to be a democratic reaction to the crisis of our liberal democracies. It is also a reaction of a growing proportion of the population, and in France of the “young” population – between 18 and 35 years – the disaster of neo-liberalism and globalization. It is this context that has totally invalidated the way of thinking of social democracies in different countries, including of course France. The electoral translation of this invalidation is under way, and could lead to the virtual disappearance of the PS, which seems to have learned no lessons whatsoever from the Brexit or the election of Mr. Donald Trump. The left will only rebuild itself by fully assuming this populist turning point and by ceasing to build imaginary barriers between social progress and the idea of nation.