As if the Socialists don't have enough problems already, Vincent Peillon is preparing to get into the race. If you've been following the PS for a while, you'll remember Peillon as the spokesperson for Ségolène Royal's campaign in 2007 and then as minister of education in the Ayrault government.
He's the son of a Communist banker, who headed the first Soviet bank outside the USSR, and the great-grandson of Léon Blum--quite a pedigree for an authentic man of the left. (CORRECTION: Jacob Soll points out that his great grandfather was not Prime Minister Léon Blum but Dr. Léon Blum, famous in his own right but not as a prominent Socialist--apologies for the error). Though involved in numerous efforts to reform the PS, his quiet intellectual demeanor never seemed to catch on with the rank-and-file. He comes across as a friendly schoolteacher, a French Mr. Chips, and in fact he has been teaching school since his retirement from active political life, which came about when Manuel Valls came to power: Peillon had gotten along well with Ayrault, another schoolteacher in politics with a similar style, but he and Valls were oil and water, and Valls got rid of him. Peillon fled to Switzerland.
Now he's back, in part, apparently, to make trouble for Valls. Peillon had been prepared to support Hollande, but he can't stomach Valls. Some say that disgruntled Hollandistes have egged him on precisely to make mischief for Valls. Who knows.
Peillon's candidacy will probably go nowhere, but it is one more symptom of the terminal state of the PS. There is not even a pretense of seeking to unite behind a candidate through the primary process. The primary is being taken rather as an occasion to express everything that has been repressed since Jospin's defeat. The prevailing wisdom had been that in order to prevent a repeat of 2002, differences had to be kept muted in order to prevent another fatal dispersion of energies. Hollande was the father of this crack-papering approach to politics, and his failure, along with the probable elimination of the left from the second round again this year, as in 2002, has put an end to the wish to project even an illusion of comity. All voices now want to be heard, and Peillon, who had chosen silence for the past two years, has suddenly recovered his powers of speech.
As an historian, Peillon has worked on the origins of laïcité and published a polemical attack on Furet's revisionist history of the French Revolution. One can imagine how such subjects might figure in the campaign he may be preparing to launch. The schoolmasterly tone will be an interesting alternative to Valls's hectoring. One takes one's amusement where one can. If nothing else, a Peillon candidacy might offer a few weeks' diversion in what otherwise promises to be a depressing holiday season of intrasocialist bloodletting.