Monday, November 24, 2008

Mosco Proposes Collective Leadership

Yesterday I proposed Pierre Moscovici as a compromise leader for the PS. Today Mosco himself proposes another solution: a collective leadership. This is a politic solution, but is it a workable one? I think not, given the present state of relations among PS leaders. It may of course be that Moscovici himself recognizes this and is offering his proposal simply as a step toward putting himself forward as the obvious primus inter pares, since, as I noted yesterday, he is the only one among the elephants and calves not to have taken a public stand in the final round of voting. He's also a self-styled non-présidentiable.

But things may already have gone too far for a compromise. Tempers are running high. Still, we haven't heard much from the less mediagenic party bosses: the Collombs, Guérinis, Rebsamens, Frêches, etc. These "good ol' boys" are not going to let a national-level grudge match tear up the well-tended lawns in their cozy fiefs. Without them and their gros bataillons, Ségo has only her 20-euro adherents, Manuel Valls (who has stuck his neck way out by going so quickly to the courts), Vincent Peillon, and her pretorian guard. I suspect that the southern barons are already hard at work behind the scenes on a compromise candidate. Might Collomb himself step forward, or Rebsamen? Might they turn to Delanoë as a front man? Anything is possible, but I would give odds at this point that neither Aubry nor Royal will become party leader.

14 comments:

kirkmc said...

As Bismarck reportedly said, "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." I would add to that the choosing of the leaders of political parties.

I've said here before that I don't understand why the Socialists wanted to mediatize this process so much. I guess they felt they'd get plenty of TV time, but this has totally backfired. If they had just done this whole procedure quietly - even if it involves voting by the rank and file, though that might be a mistake as well - they wouldn't have such egg on their collective face.

Kirk

gregory brown said...

To my mind, Kirk hits the nail on the head here. This sort of internal maneuvering is far and away the norm in the history of the PS and going back further of the center-left. And generally speaking its the history of every political party or movement.

But I fail to think of an example of a party holding an open election of its (very ill-defined) membership for a leader. The closest obvious example is the American presidential primaries but of course thats for a candidate rather than a functioning party chair.

I suspect this process was developed because Royal felt she could only win by going outside the Bureau national and her opponents felt that it was the only way they could defeat her definitively.

But even if the outcome had been a 2-1 win for Aubry, I'm not sure it would have resolved the issue much more clearly -- because the simple fact is that as much as it seems to bother a lot of Socialists and commentators, Segolene Royal is personally much more popular than her party or any other leader in it.

Unknown said...

C'mon, guys. Public coverage of party inside baseball is not unique to France. It's the very stuff of politics. Leadership struggles and battles over party line and tactics fill the newspapers in France, Germany, and Italy, and, as Greg notes, this is what US primaries are about. The Socialist dilemma stems not from public coverage but from the fact that the party cannot decide whether its leadership contest is also a contest to choose a candidate. The answer could be yes, or it could be no, but the only winning formula for the Left--Mitterrand's--was based on presidentialization of the party. That is what Ségo is trying to do. The others would like to do the same but aren't yet popular enough to try. So they pretend that the contest is about something else.

Unknown said...

I am afraid that this form of election was not developed for Royal. In reality, this reform of the nomination of the party leader was decided back in 1995 by none others than Jospin (the hitlero-trotskyst who recently compared Royal to Marcel Deat, a socialist turned national socialist and traitor in the 1930s) and Hollande, the current somewhat hapless outgoing leader.

The idea there was to adapt a little the party selection mode to the presidential context in France but their view had been that a majority would form in the (proportionally) elected governing body (the conseil national) leading basically to a single candidacy for leader that the party membership would ratify. This of course shows that people who change institutions had better have a highly developed imagination otherwise the future may come and bite their you-know-what.

The situation here is that we have a perfect 50/50 split inside the party membership (given the square-root error in vote counting which is way above 42 votes), whereas the split inside the conseil national will be quite different as it will reflect the votes for all the motions in the recent congress. In other words, we have two modes of election for parliament and president and they are contradictory (Israel comes to mind...). That is the root of the problem.

The way forward is pretty complicated and Moscovici's solution is one possible solution. But it would be very difficult to implement for any new party leader standing in the middle of the no man's land between factions (the kind of place where both friendly and ennemy fire is a distinct possibility...). This may well be why we are not hearing much from "lesser" socialists. They may not wish to risk losing it all with the wrong move, not least, and this is actually crucial, considering that the PS controls all French regions but one (Alsace), and that it thus has everything to lose in these coming elections. So all the regional "barons" are likely in damage control mode and not making such a great job of it apparently.

Trust me, life in the PS is not "un long fleuve tranquille".

Unknown said...

Bernard,
Point taken, but I think it's possible to overemphasize the importance of the particular formalisms adopted by the party in '95. Would it really make any difference if there were no "proportional representation" in the national council and no attempt to "synthesize" the various motions? In the end, all of this is just window-dressing in preparation for the choice of a leader, and it's the equivocation between "party leader" and "party candidate," or between "presidential regime" and "parliamentary/local gov't regime" that is the root of the problem. The Fifth Republic is designed to weaken any party that does not capture the presidency. Mitterrand made the Socialists as afraid of winning the presidency as they are of losing it. They like their collective rule and aren't prepared to give it up to anyone they consider a peer, or, worse, an inferior, which is Royal's status. Mitterrand, through his historical duel with de Gaulle and his boldness in taming the Communists, managed to raise himself to a higher position, to world-historical status. Royal can't get there, but she has nevertheless trounced her rivals by way of her appeal to voters through the media. For some this is a legitimate path to power; for others it's a swindle and a cheat. That's the psychological basis of this imbroglio, I think.

Unknown said...

I guess we are not really saying different things, actually.

Certainly, Royal tries to emulate Mitterrand and, of course, she is not playing at the same level. People like Mitterrand are rare already, but to have the chance to prove oneself against a De Gaulle! In fact, it might perhaps be better to say that she is trying to travel the same kind of road as Sarkozy on her way to power. That of course cannot be said openly inside the PS for fear of a volley of artillery! But it is the way to power in a 5th republic regime with major media influence (and I'm not saying fourth estate, I reserve that to the real thing...).

Unknown said...

Yes, agreed. And I like the comment about the Fourth Estate!

kirkmc said...

So if this system was adopted in 1995, was Hollande elected in this manner, or was it after his choice? Because I don't remember seeing this in the media before.

And, Art, while you say this occurs in other European countries, it certainly doesn't occur in the US - not at the party level. In fact, in most cases, the head of a party is neither an elected official or someone well known outside the Beltway (Dean seems to be an exception, probably because the Dems wanted to keep him quiet). The previous Dem leader was, AFAIK, never elected to anything, though he's planning to run for governor of Virginia. You cannot, however, compare this to US primaries, or primaries in any country; the primaries choose a candidate, for whom the people are going to vote.

On that matter, was the last election also the first time the Socialists chose their candidate in the way they did? I think there was an element of desperiation in the way they had "20 euro memberships" to get more people to vote for the candidate. Especially as most of those "members" have jumped ship.

Also, I think the Socialists are very wrong in their assumption that the leader of the party should also be the candidate for president. (Yes, this has not been the case before, but it seems now that those who want to be the leader are "presidentiables".) Running a party is very, very different from being a viable candidate. If you run a party, you have to kiss ass to keep the party together, and as a candidate you don't want that many favors in the favor bank.

Whatever results from this, it's the now-Socialist (well, almost) president Sarkozy and his party who are benefitting. The Socialists can't choose between Royal and Aubry; no matter who wins, it'll be a mess. They can't choose someone else, because they made such a public spectacle of this "election" process. And they can't call a do-over, because it's just plain stupid. Rock, meet hard place.

Unknown said...

Kirk, We're debating at cross-purposes because you are focusing on the choice of party leader while I am conflating the choice of leader and the choice of candidate. That is what I think is at stake here: as Bernard points out, Ségo wants to Sarkozyze the party, that is, make it the vehicle of her candidacy (rather than the obstacle to it, as last time). The other elephants are trying to prevent this, because they still see themselves as ultimate candidates. But in all parties everywhere, the choice of candidate for the supreme executive position is a focal point of politics. It just so happens that in the UK the party leader becomes the prime minister. Etc. The Socialist problem is one of--deliberate--confusion about what the contest is about.

kirkmc said...

Art, I think part of the problem is the assumption that the party leader will be the candidate. And that's what's creating all the zizanie, as you point out. The Socialists attempted to start a trend last election with a sort-of-primary, and if Royal wins, she'd want to avoid that as much as possible. I think this shows just how much this election is about personal ambition and not someone who can help the party evolve.

Tom Holzman said...

Nothing like a slow-motion train wreck. You gotta love it! I feel sorry for the younger generation in the PS. I cannot imagine that whatever comes out of this will improve the party or its electoral chances. Meltdown in progress.

Unknown said...

kirkmc,

indeed, Hollande was elected in this manner, by the party membership.

I concur with Arthur on party leader and candidate. The party is at present playing with the fantasy that they would choose a candidate in 2011 earliest for a 2012 election. That is possible provided they intend to loose (ok, I know, it does look like they intend to loose, the joke is easy). Should they by any chance intend to win, the candidate will have to be known and to prepare him/herself much earlier than that. Thus the conflict with party leader which according to statutes should be in charge until 2011.

kirkmc said...

Bernard,

That suggests that this is _not_ the best way to choose then. Hollande has not exactly turned the Socialists into election winners.

However, I disagree that the candidate should be chosen that early. That gives the candidate more time to screw up, puts them under more scrutiny (nothing like the US process, but time still lets the public get too used to a person and makes it easier for their mistakes to be remembered over time).

The problem is that they're worried about a candidate where they should be worried about coming up with ideas, instead of just voting against everything in the Assemblé, or, worse, abstaining so they can say they didn't vote against certain things.

Kirk

gregory brown said...

My recollection of the history of PS candidates being directly elected by the party membership is that a primary was organized in early 95 when Delors announced he would not run to succeed Mitterand. The party establishment favored Emanuelli, but he was involved in one of the many late-reign legal imbroglios, and the party membership overwhelmingly picked Jospin.

My further recollection is that just after the election, Fabius and allies tried to displace Jospin (the famous "agir vite et taper fort"), and it was against this sort of inside baseball that Jospin and Hollande again turned to the party membership to elect the General Secretary.

But I don't believe Holland faced any opposition in 97 and has not had to stand for election against any competition since then.

So in this sense, Art you're clearly right that this election is particularly fraught because it amounts to an unprecedented combination of party leadership struggle and surrogate (or not so surrogate) presidential primary.

But that said, I still can't think of a precedent that a competitive direct vote is held for a party leader. Technically, Labor did this when Brown succeeded Blair last year, but there was no competition.

Actually, now that I think of it, both Israeli parties have used this system of membership voting to choose a party leader, and both parties have had hotly contested party leadership elections in the past decade or so.