Friday, January 25, 2008

The Presidentialization of the PS

"I am not in favor of the presidentialization of the party," writes Pierre Moscovici. It doesn't make sense, he argues, to combat the "hyperpresidentialism" of Sarkozy on the one hand while attempting to introduce a "culture of presidentialism" into the party on the other. He wants to maintain the party's diversity (speaking euphemistically) while establishing a "majoritarian coherence" that he hopes will be "reformist, European, and firmly anchored on the left."

This clearly puts him at odds with Ségolène Royal, who obviously does want to "presidentialize" the party with herself in the starring role. In this way she envisions a route to power in 2012 similar to that by which Sarkozy traveled from leadership of the UMP to power in 2007.

Temperamentally, I prefer Moscovici's more open approach and reluctance to embrace the cult of personality. Yet I'm currently reading James Cronin's excellent New Labour's Pasts, which tells the story of the Labour Party's attempts to reform itself in the wake of repeated losses to Mrs. Thatcher. With the PS now in something of the same disarray as Labour in the mid-80s, Cronin's account is a cautionary tale to any Socialist leader tempted to follow Moscovici. For instance (p. 286): "It would be necessary ... to deal with the fact that ... there were '... too many worrying skeletons in the Labour Party cupboard deterring voters ...' ... Defense, taxes, and the role of the 'loony left'and the perception that Labour was still a divided and fissiparous party were the main 'skeletons,'and getting rid of them would require more than deft handling by the party's press officers. It would also require the development of a new set of policies that would assure the electorate that Labour had truly and permanently changed ..."

Moscovici no doubt favors "the development of a new set of policies," but it is hard to see how his vision of the party as a collegial association of debating partners will persuade the electorate that the Socialists have "truly and permanently changed." Under the conditions imposed by a presidential regime in the media age, a party must find a way to craft a message and an image that extend beyond the relatively small number of activists eager to participate in internal debate and weigh the virtues of competing programs. If the purpose of the party is to take power (and not all parties have that aim), then it must equip itself with the means to do so. A political party in 2008 cannot be a seminar at Sciences Po. One can deplore this fact, but one shouldn't avert one's eyes from it. (ADDED LATER: Laurent Bouvet makes a similar point here and notes that a victory in the municipals may serve only to slow the hard choices that the PS needs to make.)

À propos, Ségolène Royal is coming to Harvard next week, and I should have the opportunity to learn more about what her vision of the Socialist future is.

No comments: