Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ségolène's Next Move

At Harvard last February, I enjoyed the privilege of attending a private dinner for Ségolène Royal. After dinner, she took questions. I remarked that her idea of building a mass party with a national primary to choose the candidate for 2012 well in advance of the election was such an attractive notion that she had quite a few rivals for the job of making it happen. How did she intend to get rid of them? Her answer was affable enough but dodged the question, as I should have known it would.

The exchange returns to me now, as I contemplate her tactical position at the moment. It would be a foolhardy person indeed who attached a clear meaning to the recent vote of party militants. Royal is on top, but just barely. The old leadership--not just Hollande but with him Delanoë and the Jospinistes in his camp--has been pretty clearly repudiated yet remains strong enough to cause trouble. Other wounded predators lurk in the bush: Aubry, Fabius, Hamon. And Royal probably doesn't want the leadership position for herself: she has the national profile without it and wants simply to ensure that the apparatus isn't used against her. She is therefore expected by many to push Vincent Peillon for the job, and Hollande, anticipating this, has called on her to name her choice publicly.

There presumably wouldn't be much risk in this course. Peillon is an intellectual, not likely to outshine the putative candidate or presume to usurp the role for himself. As far as I know, he's acceptable to all factions. I don't know where he stands on the question of a national primary to choose the candidate, which will I imagine be a key issue in interfactional negotiations. The consensus is that Royal would have an advantage in an open primary. She is known to favor this method of choosing a candidate, although details of eligibility remain to be worked out. Of course there's nothing to say that someone else couldn't succeed in this format as well. Many things can happen between now and 2011. But my guess is that Peillon will become the leader, that there will be an open primary, and that the anti-Royal Socialists, who together account for 70% of those who voted and who have failed in their effort to use the party machinery to stop her, will now turn their attention to undermining her standing with the broader public. They will "go negative," in American parlance, and we will learn, perhaps, why so many Socialists seem to be unhinged by the thought of a Présidente Ségo.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"why so many Socialists seem to be unhinged by the thought of a Présidente Ségo"

This indeed is the real mystery and the only thing I would hold against her, provided it is not simply the fact that she is a successful woman inside a party which remains in practice quite closed to women.

There are not many successful women inside the socialist party. Those that come to mind are usually allied with Sego, and otherwise we have Aubry - daughter of Delors - and in a past generation Cresson - protégée of Mitterrand -. Aubry, up to now, had never really played national party politics and had been introduced to her regional stronghold by Maurois, who like Delors was very moderate. Cresson tried to have a national political role and was very swiftly destroyed (you might argue that she deserved it, I know, I am a free-trader myself, but it was much more than that). Keep in mind that France is close to being the worst country in the whole of Europe for women and politics - check out the proportion of female members of parliament in various countries.

So, it could really just be that she is a woman.

I had suspected that perhaps it was a character flaw and that maybe she was insufferable, but then her former boss from the Elysee remains to this day her staunchest supporter, so it cannot be that bad.

A final possibility is that it goes back to the early nineties or even the eighties when Mitterrand promoted her over a lot of people. There certainly haven't been any shortages of people since the mid-eighties who resent her successes. The fact that she never misspoke of Mitterrand cannot help either as so many did once the old lion was in agony.