Hollande wins

How centrist will the French Socialist candidate be?

The headline in this morning's Le Monde read: "Triomphe de la gauche réaliste" (Triumph of the realist left). That was how France's newspaper of record greeted François Hollande's victory over Martine Aubry in the second and decisive round of yesterday's socialist primary. Hollande won with nearly 57 per cent, on a turnout - remarkable for an election of this sort - of 2,860,000 (an increase of 8 per cent on the 2,661,231 who voted in the first round).

As for Hollande's "realism", it's certainly true that he tacked to the centre against Aubry and the left-wing Arnaud Montebourg in the campaign leading up to the first round of voting. And he belongs to a generation of Socialist politicians scarred by the electoral beating the Socialists took when François Mitterand's government turned to austerity early in 1983, abandoning the Keynesian economic activism of 110 Propositions pour la France, the programme on which Mitterand had run and won two years earlier.

Nevertheless, as I wrote last week, Hollande couldn't ignore the surge of enthusiasm for Montebourg, stoked by his fulminations against globalisation and his calls for much tighter state supervision of the banking sector. And indeed he didn't. Between the first and second rounds, Hollande made a number of public entreaties (especially on financial policy) to Montebourg and his supporters, most of whom would, it was assumed, vote for the more left-leaning Aubry second time around. It seems to have worked: last week, Montebourg endorsed Hollande as the candidate most able to build a winning coalition against Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election.

Hollande has said he won't throw himself into campaigning straight away. For one thing, the organisational apparatus of the PS, of which Aubry is first secretary, needs overhauling. Hollande's first act as presidential candidate is likely to be to attend today's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the police massacre of Algerians demonstrating in Paris.

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

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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.