Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bayrou's Loss

François Bayrou has lost his bid to remain mayor of Pau. It is hard to see where he goes from here. His strength of a year ago came from his being neither Nicolas Sarkozy nor Ségolène Royal, a ni-ni that seemed to please nearly a fifth of the electorate. But how much real positive sentiment was there for Bayrou? Quite a lot, he flattered himself, but since then his presidential ambitions and rejectionist stance have alienated many in his own party and, now, apparently, many voters in his home town. He has not been an effective critic of Sarkozy and has not put forward a distinctive centrist position on major national issues. Like Sarkozy, he tried to build his ambition around a cult of personality, but cults of personality are not really the stuff of centrist movements. The center needs to renovate itself almost as badly as the Socialist Party does. Ségolène Royal may still be entertaining some version of the morganatic marriage she proposed to Bayrou between the two rounds of the presidential election: Wed the two parties from the top down, she seemed to suggest, take the main prize, and then divide power according to the respective contributions of each partner. With Bayrou deflated, she will have to refashion her appeal to the center and offer something compelling to the rank-and-file of MoDem rather than a mere prize to the party's now vulnerable leader.

5 comments:

Ben said...

I just think that Bayrou chose the wrong time to launch his movement. Everybody thought he was the big story of 2007 but I think the long-term trend that 2007 exhibited was not an attraction to the center but the fact that France is slowly moving to a two-party system.
And btw that's the long-term lesson of tonight's results as well. Unlike last week, where the PC seemed to do OK, tonight was catastrophic for the PC. Losing Le Havre which should have been easy enough or Montreuil are rough defeats. With the FN completely humiliated, and the Modem the big loser of tonight (nobody from the MoDem in the Conseil de Paris ! Nada !), what is clear is that the PS and the UMP are sucking up all the energy and will continue to do so more and more.
A party of the center will only make sense once there is a backlash from that trend. But it has not been consolidated enough for it to be resented yet. I think Bayrou's biggest weakness, outside of his ego, is his poor timing.
Notwithstanding the fact that obviously, they had no idea what the "center" is supposed to mean.

gregory brown said...

I agree with most of what Ben wrote above, except that I think the whole concept of the "center" (which Art I think correctly defines as "ni-ni") is not what was appealing about Bayrou, esp during his "surge" in Feb of last year. It was of a post-ideological political transformation ("je ne veux pas changer de camp, je veux changer les camps") that was equal parts populist ("renverser la table") and faux-straight talk ("mon oeuil" in response to Sarkozy's debt estimates. And that sort of theme works well in a thematic, individual-focused presidential campaign, its not as appealing in a legislative or municipal election, where the issues are more concrete.

As for Royal, Art, I think its not quite right to talk about her vision as a "top-down" approach. AFter all, she came out of nearly nowhere to win control of the PS last fall based on a resurgence of new, activist PS membership (which has since, of course, faded) that was at least some degree internet driven. To me, that "participative democracy" message of civic engagement is still an important part of both her appeal and her message, and while it seems to have dropped off considerably since the heady days of last winter, its certainly a vision for change that, combined with the right individual and platform, could and will I think be very powerful.

But you are I think spot on to suggest that the appearance of a Royal "combinaison" with Bayrou vitiates against that vision, to the political detriment of both.

Ben said...

I think Segolene has more of an "outside-in" approach to the Socialist Party. LOL

And I failed to see Bayrou's appeal last year, this year or any year because my first political memories go back to the Balladur government, one of the pillars of which alongside Sarkozy was laicite-busting Bayrou as a particularly lazy Education Minister.
So his whole ni-ni or post-ideological whatever is a big crock in my humble opinion, aka his only path to potential relevancy in the French political system after he was set aside in the early 2000s.
I am not a fan :)

FrédéricLN said...

Hello,
precisions for Ben :

Le Havre was not an easy place for PCF, the UMP Mayor Antoine Rufenacht has a correct track record as far as I know, and the MoDem went with him already at "premier tour".

Marielle de Sarnez has saved 1 place for MoDem at Conseil de Paris, ie her own seat.

Ben said...

Absolutely. Ms De Sarnez ended up squeaking by.

But Le Havre was supposed to be an easy place. Rufenacht is not as popular locally as his very respectable achievements and national profile entitled him too and demographically Le Havre is a leftist town with a long communist past and arguably a fairly well-known Communist candidate
In the current environment it should have been enough