Friday, September 4, 2009

Royal's New Strategy

Ségolène Royal is as wary of Martine Aubry's Socialist Party as she is needful of its rank-and-file. Her evolving strategy reflects this dual relationship. On the one hand, she has decided that a frontal assault is doomed, so she has resolved to be a good party member. She no longer attacks Aubry, the two share the stage, are photographed together, etc. On the other hand, she wants to foster an image of herself as larger and more comprehensive than the party, no doubt in preparation for the eventual primary of the left. So she has assumed command of her own organization, Désirs d'avenir, which she wants to turn into "an international NGO" plugged into "American think tanks," which she claims are eager for her expertise on participatory democracy. (Permit me to doubt her on this point. I know my countrymen.) At the same time she has attempted to present herself as a sort of eminence on the European scene. Without entering into the polemic that erupted yesterday over the precise nature of her alleged relationship with the United Nations Program for Development (PNUD, to use its French acronym), it does seem that she somewhat overstated the significance of a form letter that the PNUD sent to any number of regional leaders in Europe and around the world.

Will this strategy work? I think Royal's main strength at this point is her celebrity. It is also her main weakness, since every gaffe she makes, such as the PNUD flap, is immediately magnified by the press coverage that automatically attaches to her every move. She needs to keep herself in the public eye constantly yet ensure that the coverage actually amplifies rather than diminishes her image. It's a tricky business, and she hasn't been particularly adroit at it in the past, in part because her positions on key issues seem, bluntly speaking, to vacillate. Sarkozy also exploited the media, but he cultivated great message discipline and hit upon a few simple themes to encapsulate what he was about. Royal hasn't yet managed to identify the issues that are to define her candidacy.

On the failure of Désirs d'avenir to extend its reach beyond the PS, see this on the departure of its former head, Jean-Pierre Mignard.

ADDENDUM: Royal captures my thought in her own words:

« Ce n'est pas mon problème, je n'interfère plus dans les sujets internes au Parti socialiste. Moi, je m'occupe de ma région et de travailler dans le cadre de Désirs d'avenir. Je ne m'exprime pas ni au nom du PS ni pour protéger le PS. »