Monday, August 25, 2008

Frangy, A Year Later

One year ago, Arnaud Montebourg hosted his annual gathering of Socialists at Frangy, and I blogged about the state of the party. This year's Frangy gathering has just taken place, and things are no clearer now than they were then.

Montebourg invited his current ally, Pierre Moscovici, as guest of honor. Moscovici promoted his candidacy for the leadership on the grounds that he is the only "disinterested" candidate--one without presidential ambitions and therefore unlikely to "presidentialize" the party, which Mosco regards as a bad thing. Yet he also says that he wants to mold the party into something more than "a shapeless mass." This would presumably mean clarifying its line, excluding or marginalizing dissenters, enforcing "message discipline" on squabbling factions, etc. A présidentiable as leader would presumably do the same thing.

There are advantages and disadvantages to leadership by the impending candidate. The most important advantage is that leadership keeps the candidate in the public eye, but that visibility has to be managed carefully lest it become a disadvantage. The well-known usure that afflicts those who inflict themselves too often on the public can be fatal to a prospective candidacy.

To run away from presidentialization, as Mosco is doing, might be seen as repudiation of the only winning formula the Socialists have yet found: Mitterrand's. Mitterrand knew how to maintain the necessary gravitas while keeping himself constantly in the public eye. No doubt Moscovici sees himself as rather rejecting the Sarkozyan anti-model, for Sarko also presidentialized his party and successfully managed the transition from attack dog de service to potential head of state. Moscovici apparently believes that none of the likely PS candidates has the wherewithal to follow the path of either Mitterrand or Sarkozy. The challenge for him, then, is to explain how he would go about establishing the image of the eventual candidate. Of course, if that candidate is to be Strauss-Kahn, whom Moscovici nominally backs, then he probably sees his own role as party chair as preparation for a future prime-ministership, in which case his characterization of his motives as "disinterested" would in fact be disingenuous.

Not that it matters much. He seems unlikely to win the impending contest no matter what he does. But a year has passed since the last weekend at Frangy, and the absence of palpable progress is a measure of the party's disorganization.


Unknown said...

Dear Mr Goldhammer,

Your deep knowledge of French politics can't make you think that the next leader of the PS will be chosen by the opinion polls (which themselves, by the way, do not name a clear winner of the forthcoming contest). It's the party members who will vote to choose their leader once the Party Congress has built a new majority, in November.

Thus, if one of the so-called "presidentiables" today appeared as having managed to get an undisputable lead over the others among the party members, Mosco would, as you point out, be unlikely to become the next "Premier secretaire" of the PS. But things are not exactly turning this way.

As you may guess, neither Segolene Royal nor Bertrand Delanoe will let the other become leader of the Party. And since Segolene and Martine Aubry also hate each other, the Aubry option is far from obvious.

So you shouldn't exclude by principle that Mosco's views will prevail in the end. He's been saying for one year now : "let's forget the 2012 presidential election for the next two years, let's go back to work (for we haven't been thinking enough under Hollande's leadership) with a leader that will not himself be the party candidate in 2012.

If a majority of the party favour this scenario, then Mosco would be in such a bad position to become the next party leader.

Unknown said...

... "would NOT be in such a bad position", I meant !

Anonymous said...

in US, as far that i know, presidential candidate is never the head of the party....
let me know if i am wrong.
this allows the party to select the best running candidate and help him after...
it seems to work
i agree with laurent olleon that moscovici may appear as the one with no ego or conflict...
that will be a trump
and he is well known for his ability to work with partners...
moscovici's bet may be winnable

David in Setouchi said...

Francis, in the US, it's not the party that chooses the candidates.
And the election process (as well as the whole "party" concept) are so different in both countries that you just can't compare.
But Arthur will explain this better than me.

Unknown said...

David, You've done a good job with this question, but on the larger issue of differences between US and French systems, see today's post.