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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.