‘It has no chance’: Socialist party heading for implosion in French elections
Bitterly divided as Franois Hollandes presidency nears its end, the party has dropped to fifth place in the polls
Grard Singer, a retired clerk in the French social security system, was queuing up for a Socialist party rally on the edge of Paris in the freezing cold, and the mood was grim. The Socialist party is in the shit, he sighed.
Singer had come to hear Benot Hamon, the leftwing outsider who is gaining ground in the partys primary contest to choose its candidate for the presidential election in the spring. But the large crowds turning out to the final rallies before the first round of the primary vote this Sunday have done little to temper the sense of impending doom. No matter which candidate it chooses, the party seems almost certain to be defeated in the main event.
After five years under the Socialist president Franois Hollande, the French electorate has shifted firmly to the right. The far-right Front Nationals Marine Le Pen and the staunchly rightwing, socially conservative Franois Fillon of the Republicans are the favourites to reach the final round of the election in May. The Socialists, meanwhile, seem to be heading for implosion, bitterly divided between pro-market modernisers and a leftwing flank that argues true socialist values have been betrayed.
The real debate on the French left is taking place outside the Socialist party, between two charismatic figures who have made the Socialists seem irrelevant. On the centre-left, Hollandes rebellious former economy minister Emmanuel Macron is breathing down the necks of Fillon and Le Pen with his maverick neither left nor right campaign, with key Socialists increasingly jumping ship to join him. And on the hard left, the firebrand Jean-Luc Mlenchon, who has Communist party backing, is rising in the polls, relegating the Socialists to an embarrassing and demoralising fifth place.
The party is smashing its own face in, said Singer. Mathematically it has no chance of getting to the final round of the presidential election. But he still felt it was important to vote in the primary and to take part in the debate over pensions, social security and the universal wage. Some are saying people live longer so they have to work longer thats not social progress, he said.
Another Socialist supporter, a 22-year-old law student, said: Its all so depressing. Theyre shooting themselves in the foot. But maybe the party can rebuild itself. It has to.
When Hollande was elected in 2012 Frances first leftwing president for 17 years – the Socialists were riding high and had an unprecedented concentration of power. The left controlled both the assembly and the senate for the first time in history, and it held almost all French regions and a sway of major cities. But the presidency, dogged by terrorist attacks and mass unemployment, faced such bitter party infighting over economic U-turns that the government resorted to a controversial form of decree to ram through key laws. In December, Hollande the least popular French leader since the second world war, with a satisfaction rating of just 4% conceded he could not run for re-election.
The Socialist primary votes on 22 and 29 January are centred on three main figures. The pro-business former prime minister Manuel Valls, whose hard line on law and order and French secularism places him firmly on the right of the party, is facing a challenge from two leftwing rebels, both former ministers who were thrown out of government for criticising Hollandes economic policy. Arnaud Montebourg, a former lawyer and finance minister, is a fierce critic of multinational companies and the EU and wants to launch a massive state spending programme to jumpstart the economy. Hamon, a former education minister, has called for a universal basic income and wants to legalise cannabis.