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.

Getty Images
Show Hide image

Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war