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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She knew every trick to get a home visit – but this time I had come prepared

 Having been conned into another couple of fruitless house calls, I now parry the proffered symptoms and generally get to the heart of the matter on the phone.

I first came across Verenice a couple of years ago when I was on duty at the out-of-hours service.

“I’m a diabetic,” she told me, “and I’m feeling really poorly.” She detailed a litany of symptoms. I said I’d be round straight away.

What sounded worrying on the phone proved very different in Verenice’s smoke-fugged sitting room. She was comfortable and chatty, she had no fever or sign of illness, and her blood sugar was well controlled. In fact, she looked remarkably well. As I tried to draw the visit to a close, she began to regale me with complaints about her own GP: how he neglected her needs, dismissed her symptoms, refused to take her calls.

It sounded unlikely, but I listened sympathetically and with an open mind. Bit by bit, other professionals were brought into the frame: persecutory social workers, vindictive housing officers, corrupt policemen, and a particularly odious psychiatrist who’d had her locked up in hospital for months and had recently discharged her to live in this new, hateful bungalow.

By the time she had told me about her sit-in at the local newspaper’s offices – to try to force reporters to cover her story – and described her attempts to get arrested so that she could go to court and tell a judge about the whole saga, it was clear Verenice wasn’t interacting with the world in quite the same way as the rest of us.

It’s a delicate path to tread, extricating oneself from such a situation. The mental health issues could safely be left to her usual daytime team to follow up, so my task was to get out of the door without further inflaming the perceptions of neglect and maltreatment. It didn’t go too well to start with. Her voice got louder and louder: was I, too, going to do nothing to help? Couldn’t I see she was really ill? I’d be sorry when she didn’t wake up the next morning.

What worked fantastically was asking her what she actually wanted me to do. Her first stab – to get her rehoused to her old area as an emergency that evening – was so beyond the plausible that even she seemed able to accept my protestations of impotence. When I asked her again, suddenly all the heat went out of her voice. She said she didn’t think she had any food; could I get her something to eat? A swift check revealed a fridge and cupboards stocked with the basics. I gave her some menu suggestions, but drew the line at preparing the meal myself. By then, she seemed meekly willing to allow me to go.

We’ve had many out-of-hours conversations since. For all her strangeness, she is wily, and knows the medical gambits to play in order to trigger a home visit. Having been conned into another couple of fruitless house calls, I now parry the proffered symptoms and generally get to the heart of the matter on the phone. It usually revolves around food. Could I bring some bread and milk? She’s got no phone credit left; could I call the Chinese and order her a home delivery?

She came up on the screen again recently. I rang, and she spoke of excruciating ear pain, discharge and fever. I sighed, accepting defeat: with that story I’d no choice but to go round. Acting on an inkling, though, I popped to the drug cupboard first.

Predictably enough, when I arrived at Verenice’s I found her smiling away and puffing on a Benson, with a normal temperature, pristine ears and perfect blood glucose.

“Well,” I said, “whatever’s causing your ear to hurt is a medical mystery. Take some paracetamol and I’m sure it’ll be fine in the morning.”

There was a flash of triumph in her eyes. “Ah, but doctor, I haven’t got any. Could you –”

Before she could finish, I produced a pack of paracetamol from my pocket and dropped it on her lap. She looked at me with surprise and admiration. She may have suckered me round again, but I’d managed to second-guess her. I was back out of the door in under five minutes. A score-draw. 

Phil Whitaker is a GP and an award-winning author. His fifth novel, “Sister Sebastian’s Library”, will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain