Successful primaries give French socialists momentum

François Hollande secured a clear victory in France's unprecedented open socialist primaries. Now he

As Hollande stated, the vote was a victory not only for him but also for the French left. Extensive media coverage, a high turnout of 2.7 million voters and a decisive result will give the socialist candidate greater democratic legitimacy and momentum. An incredible 6 million viewers watched the final TV debate on Sunday between Hollande and the runner-up, Martine Aubry.

Known by some as the Iron Lady of French politics (albeit on the left), Aubry was gracious in defeat and immediately called for the party to unite after the primaries. Supporters were singing football and rugby-inspired songs, repeating the slogan "tous ensemble, tous ensemble (all together)" outside the Party's headquarters on the Rive Gauche.

Open primaries were initially suggested by a progressive think tank, Terra Nova, and encouraged by a few reformist leaders with a modernising agenda. Opening up the selection of the Party's candidate, they argued, meant fully embracing twenty-first century politics and would force the Parti Socialiste to go beyond its organisational structure and address the concerns of society as a whole.

Political differences seemed to emerge between the two finalists between the first and second rounds. Aubry was portrayed as the traditionalist left-winger and Hollande the centre-left moderniser. But Martine et François have a lot in common. They are from the same generation, in their 50s. She is the biological daughter and he the spiritual son of Jacque Delors, the former President of the European Commission, and the two of them worked closely with Lionel Jospin. They both attended the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the elite institution that trains senior public servants. There are a few differences in policy emphasis, but what distinguishes them mostly is their style and personality.

Essentially, Hollande won because he is seen as the candidate best placed to beat Nicolas Sarkozy. He is an impressive orator, a steady and calm figure compared to the hyperactive, petulant President. But will this be enough for the PS to finally return to power next year?

Three million voters took part in the primaries, but 20 million are needed to ensure the victory of the left next year. The French socialists haven't won a Presidential election since the re-election of François Miterrand in 1988. Their last whiff of power came to an abrupt end when the incumbent Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, failed to get through to the second round in the Presidential elections in 2002. Being beaten into third place by the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen is a deep scar in the French socialists' collective consciousness.

Perhaps the left's successive defeats will help Hollande keep the traditionally fractious PS unified. He will probably make use of the defeated primaries candidates during the campaign to show that he is a leader willing to unite and use the talents of his party. The overwhelming feeling within the Party is that unity has to be now or never. The party machine is therefore ready for the battle, with an enlarged army and a solid programme.

In the most recent poll, Hollande is at 63 per cent, with Sarkozy on 38 per cent. But the socialists can't take anything for granted. The President is trying to tone down his hyperactive personality and appear more presidential. The recent arrival of his baby with Carla Bruni will probably give him a bounce in polls.

The media attention and the turnout during the primaries are clearly cause for concern for the French right. Ministers and MPs from the governmental majority -- and even Sarkozy -- successively raised legal concerns, expressed exasperation about the intense media coverage, criticized the candidates and their programmes, but, in the end, proved unable to deal a blow to the left's new found democratic legitimacy.

The right is angry, the left is determined.

Determined to win the Presidential elections for the first time in over two decades.

The primaries were an effective prelude. Now the real battle commences.

Emma Reynolds is the Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East and Shadow Minister for Europe.

Axelle Lemaire is the French Socialist candidate for next year's French parliamentary elections for the new constituency of Northern Europe.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.