Anne Hidalgo's victory in Paris was a small consolation for the French left. Photograph: Getty.
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French Socialists humiliated in local elections

Good news for Ukip, bad news for Labour.

France went to the polls yesterday to vote for mayors and councillors in over 36,000 municipalities. Results have barely made headlines in Britain. But all agree that the news is catastrophic for President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party, in what most have interpreted as a referendum on the state of national government.

The Socialists were braced for humiliation. Last’s week’s first-round elections saw them poll 43 per cent of the popular vote versus the 48 per cent garnered by the conservative UMP opposition. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National (FN) won a respectable 7 per cent of the country and managed to capture outright the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont. That was a remarkable achievement for a party once associated with thuggery and anti-Semitism, but which is now positioned as a eurosceptic insurgency.

The Socialists lost 151 large towns and cities on Sunday, although they retain control of Paris, which welcomes its first female mayor. The victory of Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo will offer a template for the expected candidacies of Oona King, Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell in the 2016 London mayoral race. But Paris was the left’s only consolation on a day Le Monde called “a bloodbath of which we find no equivalent in the history of municipal elections”. Turnout was 63.5 per cent, which is high by British standards but historically low for a country in which mayors wield considerable power.

Voters have delivered a damning verdict on the Socialist presidency. They are above all frustrated by Hollande's management of an economy whose key indicators are lagging behind those of Germany and the UK. French unemployment edged above 4.9 million in February, whilst growth and foreign investment remain in a slump. Hollande’s style of leadership – widely perceived as amateurish – is another object of dissatisfaction. The president’s approval ratings have been in freefall for months, and he now has the distinction of being the most unpopular leader in the history of the Fifth Republic. A cabinet reshuffle is imminent; Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will almost certainly be shown the door. He has already taken partial blame for the Socialist rout on national television.

British observers will draw lessons from events across the Channel. UKIP should be encouraged by the wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiment carrying insurgents like Le Pen and Geert Wilders – the peroxide populist who heads the Dutch Party for Freedom – up national polls. The FN has shown how vulnerable mainstream parties are to hardline eurosceptics in economically depressed and ethnically diverse communities. Marseille, France’s troubled second city, remains in the hands of Jean-Claude Gaudin of the UMP, but FN support there is on the rise.

Ed Miliband will of course be alarmed by the decline of the French left. The Labour leader welcomed Hollande’s election in May 2012 as a blow against Teutonic austerity, but the socialist alternative in France has proved neither successful nor popular. High tax policies have generated unrest in Paris and Brittany, while Hollande’s 75 per cent super levy on millionaires (compare to Milband’s support for the 50p rate on top earners) has upset football clubs and led to the prominent exile of actor Gérard Depardieu, who now attacks Parisian bolshevism from the safety of Vladimir Putin’s court.

Miliband and Hollande also share a political personality. Both have fashioned themselves as honest, serious, old-fashioned leftists standing in opposition to scandal-ridden conservative regimes. But Hollande’s reputation for dullness will unnerveLabour strategists who are struggling to contain similar allegations against their leader. Red in western Europe is becoming grey.

Britain next goes to the polls in May for the European Parliament. That vote will most likely produce similar stories about the ascendancy of the eurosceptic right. Voters on both sides of the Channel are showing themselves increasingly willing to punish mainstream parties for the failure to tackle an economic crisis that has been rumbling on for seven years.

Photo: Getty
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At last, Jeremy Corbyn gets the biography he deserves

Liam Young reviews Richard Seymour's Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics.

Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is the fullest and fairest account of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise released to date. In avoiding much of the rhetoric espoused in similar accounts focusing on Corbyn’s early career this book provides a frank account of how the unlikely leader took charge of the Labour party. It is a very readable account too. Richard Seymour writes plainly but effectively and his writing is both accessible and incredibly informative.

Seymour attempts two monumental tasks in this piece: first he attempts to account for Corbyn’s rise and then he attempts to predict where such a rise will take him, the Labour party and the wider left. Zoe Williams wrote that Rosa Prince’s Comrade Corbyn was an account of “ex-girlfriends, the state of his flat” and featured “very little ideological insight”. Seymour does the opposite. In simultaneously engaging with Marxist and Gramscian theory, Seymour provides readers with something of academic value in the place of such gossip.

For any supporter of Corbyn, the first few chapters are a trip down Memroy Lane. Reading of the last minute rush to get Corbyn on the ballot paper sends the heart beating once more. While perhaps a niche political event, supporters know where they were the minute Corbyn’s place on the ballot was confirmed. The fact that we know the outcome of the uncertainty that surrounded the leadership election makes for palpable reading.

Seymour’s work is not simply the polar-opposite of Prince’s hit-job though. It would be wrong to suggest that it is a positive, self-fulfilling account of Corbyn’s rise. In many ways it is a hard hitting and realistic look at what lies ahead. For supporters of the Labour leader much of Seymour’s analysis will be discomforting; indeed the writer concludes that it is likely “labourism” will outlive “Corbynism”.

Such a view is hardly surprising though. Seymour’s repertoire of anti-establishment work suggests that it was always unlikely he would find a comfortable home in an establishment party. In this sense it suffers from being an account written by an outsider looking in. While the Marxist analysis of the Labour party is thought-provoking it seems too lengthy and seems to fit with an orthodox view surrounding the inevitable death of the Labour party.

Seymour’s concentration on “movement-building” is pertinent though. Utilising Jeremy’s own words on such a phenomenon is an effective tool. In drawing this distinction Seymour pokes at an open wound on the left asking exactly where all of this fits. It is about time that frank discussion on this topic was had. While there is a range of different opinions on the matter, Seymour’s intervention is an important initial step. It is an awkward conversation that the left can put off no longer.

The criticism levelled at the media is also well founded and long overdue. Seymour’s take on long established journalists who refused to accept Corbynmania makes for entertaining reading. On a more important note the fact that he credits social media as a central part of Corbyn’s campaign is interesting. The importance of this often overlooked element has been a point of debate within “Team Corbyn” and Seymour is right to poke at it.

Seymour’s work is, on the whole, a refreshing take on the events of last summer and a thought-provoking piece on the future of the Labour party. It is important to note that rather than viewing this book as an account of Corbyn’s campaign it should be seen as a review of the context surrounding Corbyn’s victory. Given that context is open to interpretation it is only fair to add the caveat that it should be read with an understanding of Seymour’s ideological foundation. Though I disagree with his conclusion concerning the Labour party’s future, I found it an important read. With an accessible yet authoritative tone Seymour manages the task of providing an academic insight into Corbyn’s election. Such analysis is far more valuable than words wasted on rumour and gossip – Seymour does well to avoid this and should be proud to have done so.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.