French socialists take a left turn

Arnaud Montebourg's supporters hold the key to next weekend's primary.

As of 8.30 this morning, with some of the 2.5 million votes cast still to be counted, the results in the French socialist primary were as follows:

* François Hollande - 39 per cent
* Martine Aubry - 31 per cent
* Arnaud Montebourg - 17 per cent
* Ségolène Royal - 6 per cent
* Manuel Valls - 6 per cent
* Jean-Michel Baylet - 1 per cent

It was expected that it would be the two éléphants (big beasts) of the PS, Hollande and Aubry, who'd be contesting next weekend's second round. What few commentators had foreseen, however, was quite how well Arnaud Montebourg would perform, and quite how dismally the 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal would do.

Montebourg, a deputy in Saône et Loire and president of the departmental assembly there, has run an insurgent campaign from a position well to the left of Hollande and Aubry, the watchword of which has been "démondialisation" (de-globalisation). He has argued for much stronger regulation of the financial system and "protectionism" on a European scale. The other eye-catching part of his programme is his call for thoroughgoing political and constitutional reform that would lead to the establishment of a "sixth republic".

Montebourg is expected to announce which of the two remaining candidates he favours this evening. In the meantime, Hollande and Aubry will be working out how best to appeal to his supporters. At a reception at Montebourg's HQ in the 20th arrondissement of Paris last night, one activist told Le Monde: "The people who campaigned for Montebourg clearly prefer Aubry, who has always been more to the left [than Hollande]. We can win in the second round."

Both Aubry and Hollande's campaign teams are putting pressure on Montebourg. Pierre Moscovici, who has been coordinating Hollande's campaign, said: "He [Montebourg] must ask himself who is capable of rallying the most support." Meanwhile, former prime minister Laurent Fabius, one of Aubry's most prominent supporters, insisted there was an ideological "convergence" between his candidate and Montebourg (Hollande is the more centrist of the two frontrunners; Aubry's responsibility for legislation passed in 2000 introducing the 35-hour week ensures she gets some support from the left).

Asked by the television channel France 2 for his views on Montebourg's "de-globalisation" agenda, Hollande seemed to hedge his bets, mindful that he needs the younger man's support (and supporters): "On de-globalisation, this is not my vocabulary. ... But, on a certain number of points, it's clear that limits must be placed on globalisation. But that can only be done at a European level."

The second round of voting takes place on Sunday 16 October.

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

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At Labour conference, activists and politicians can't avoid each other – but try their best to "unsee"

My week, from havoc in the Labour family to a sublime act of real-life trolling – via a shopping centre.

I like to take a favourite novel with me to party conference for when it all gets too much, and this year I took China Miéville’s The City & the City. It takes place in the fictional cities of Besžel and Ul Qoma, two metropolises that exist in the same geographic space but must dutifully “unsee” one another or risk the sanction of Breach, the secret police force. It turned out to be a better allegory for what was going on outside my hotel than I had expected.

Labour, as I don’t need to tell you, is badly split on almost everything. Now that the acrid leadership race has reached its inevitable conclusion, activists and politicians on both sides are operating as if they had a standing duty to “unsee” each other. The atmosphere feels a bit like a family dinner after a blazing row: everyone is aware that things have been said that will take years to be forgiven, if they ever will be, so the conversation is largely banal and superficial.

The exception is the conference floor, the only place where Corbynites and Corbynsceptics cannot unsee each other, which was therefore the scene of several acrimonious confrontations after tricky votes. It’s difficult to predict where Labour goes from here. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is largely against a split, but its members surely can’t spend the next four years dutifully pretending not to see one another,or their activists?

 

Chaos and confusion

Would it have been better for Jeremy Corbyn if his defeated challenger, Owen Smith, had done a little bit better against him – not just in the final vote but throughout the contest? All summer, Smith distinguished himself only through his frequent gaffes, to the point where it felt more appropriate to describe him as a participant in the leadership race rather than a combatant.

The difficulty for both Corbyn and his critics is that his opponents in the PLP have no clear leader. As a result, their dissatisfaction is amorphous, rather than being productively channelled into a set of specific demands or criticisms, which Corbyn could then reject or accept. The overwhelming feeling about his leadership among the PLP is that “something must be done”. So whenever an MP embarks on a freelance assault – Margaret Hodge’s no-confidence motion, say, or Clive Betts’s attempt to bring back elections to the shadow cabinet – the majority leaps on the scheme. Corbyn’s critics reason that at least it’s something.

Although fractious Labour MPs might not see it that way, the decision not to restore shadow cabinet elections helps their cause. Taking away the leader’s ability to choose his ministerial team was a recipe for chaos – chaos that would, rightly, have been blamed on them.

 

Custody rights

If the Labour family would be, as I suspect, better off seeking a divorce, there is an irony that one of the things that they all agree on is the fate of the kids. The party is entirely united behind its leader in his opposition to grammar schools – as is almost every serious thinker on education policy, from Policy Exchange on the right through to Melissa Benn on the left.

Still, Labour will encounter a visceral type of resistance to its stance from the alumni of grammars, who, regardless of what the studies show, attribute their success to their attendance at selective schools. I can understand that. Although I went to a comprehensive, the emotional pull of one’s upbringing is hard to escape. I can, for example, read all the studies that show that children in single-parent families do worse – but I find it hard to experience it as anything other than an awful attack on my mother, to whom I owe everything.

Winning the argument over schooling will require a sensitive ear to those for whom the argument against the schools seems like an attack on their parents.

 

Pudding and pie

One of the nice things about being from a single-parent family is that I don’t have to admit to flaws – merely to unresolved kinks that would have been ironed out had my absent father stuck around. One such kink is my capacity for procrastination, which
results in my making decisions too often at the last minute.

This always comes back to bite me at party conference. At dinner events, I frequently put off picking my meal options to the point that I have to eat whatever the kitchen has left. At one meal this year, I was lucky enough to have three courses of pudding, but at another, my hastily cobbled-together starter seemed to consist entirely of pesto, taramasalata and rocket.

 

Too late

The best thing about party conference is sharing a panel with a politician you don’t know very much about who turns out to be highly impressive. It’s particularly cheering now, when my optimism about politics is at a low ebb. I try to meet them properly for coffee afterwards, although because of my capacity for putting things off, that doesn’t always happen.

Last year, I was chairing a particularly testy fringe on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The then shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, was running late and an MP from the 2015 intake had to field all the questions on her own. She did this with immense poise and knowledge, while clearly having a sense of how unhelpful some of the louder, angrier voices were – during one lengthy monologue from the floor, she turned and rolled her eyes at me. Her name was Jo Cox.

I kept meaning to get to know her, but I never got around to ringing her office, and now I never will.

 

Banter and bargains

A colleague alerts me to a sublime act of real-life trolling. When Everton opened a second branch of its team store in Liverpool’s shopping centre, it picked an innocuous name: Everton Two. Innocuous, that is, until you realise that the shopping centre is called Liverpool One. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories