Life after death?

The French left goes back to school

In the Guardian this past weekend, John Dugdale wrote about the rentrée littéraire, the "collective insanity" that grips the French publishing industry in late summer and early autumn each year. In the course of just a few weeks, more than 600 novels will be published in France. (Dugdale suggests there's a similar phenomenon here in the UK. Certainly, the NS Books desk is groaning under the weight of more novels than we'd ever be able, or willing, to review. But I don't imagine for a minute the volume of new titles here comes anywhere close to the deluge en outre-Manche.)

Another fixture of the late-summer season in France are the universités d'été, or summer schools, held by the major political parties (not to mention the less populous groupuscules on both left and right), which announce the rentrée politique. The Parti Socialiste (PS) holds its summer school this weekend in La Rochelle, and it promises to be rather lively.

The PS has spent most of the summer in an agony of recrimination and self-examination following its mediocre showing in the European elections in June (sound familiar?). And some of its erstwhile supporters, notably Bernard-Henri Lévy, have gone as far as to pronounce a death sentence on the party. (Though for a magisterial dismissal of this view see this interview with the political philosopher Marcel Gauchet.) But there are signs of life: in Marseilles this past weekend, the Socialist MEP Vincent Peillon, himself a philosopher in a previous life, gathered an impressive array of figures from across the centre left, including the veteran of the barricades and Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former leader of the French Communist Party Robert Hue, and a representative of the new centrist agglomeration, MoDem. They were all there attempting to answer the question: "A new progressive majority for France -- how and with whom?"

Predictably enough, the PS leadership was sceptical. And, further left, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (the subject of this NS report by Andrew Hussey) showed that the sectarian habits of the ultra-gauche die hard, declaring that an alliance between the PS, the Greens and MoDem would mark the end of the "workers' movement" as we know it.

To keep up with developments on the French left, bookmark Arthur Goldhammer's invaluable English-language blog, French Politics.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood