Monday, March 10, 2008

Delanoë Says No to MoDem

Bertrand Delanoë has decided to ally with les Verts and to reject overtures from MoDem in Paris, where 3 arrondissements are at issue: 5th, 7th, and 14th. MoDem may find itself entirely frozen out in Paris. And so much for Ségolène Royal's proposal of a PS-MoDem alliance "everywhere."

Judging Historical Wrongs

Antoine Garapon, a judge with a philosophical bent and a vast historical culture, has published a book entitled Peut-on réparer l'histoire: Colonisation, esclavage, Shoah. It is reviewed here. Although I have not read this book, I have met Judge Garapon, who currently heads the Institut des Hautes Études de la Justice, founded by Robert Badinter. He is an unusually thoughtful and cultivated man, and I have no doubt that his remarks on the "judicialization of history" will repay careful reading.

The Decline of the FN

The big loser in yesterday's elections was the Front National. Hénin-Beaumont, where Marine Le Pen was a candidate and which was to have been the model for the reconstruction of the FN nationally, rewarded the party's best efforts with a meager 28.5 percent of the vote. If you watch the video here, you will see, beyond the stiff smiles hiding almost tearful faces, several candidates who offer the suggestion that the FN did poorly because voters recoiling against Sarkozy chose to vote for the PS as the stronger sanction. One would have to have more detailed information about the intentions of voters to say whether this theory makes sense. It will be interesting to see what national surveys tell us about where voters who shifted from FN to UMP in the presidential elections voted this time, but I, for one, would be very surprised to learn that they had gone in substantial numbers to the PS. I think, rather, that the FN's poor showing confirms its long-term decline, which I would attribute to several factors: the ageing of Jean-Marie Le Pen; the split in the ranks of the extreme right; Sarkozy's successful effort to lure FN voters to the UMP; and, finally, a recognition, even by erstwhile FN supporters, that the demographics of France have changed permanently and cannot be restored to a status quo ante, which, when all is said and done, was the FN's raison d'être. Every political party needs a utopian will-o'-the-wisp to lure it on through the muddy marshes of daily struggle, and without even a distant prospect of a France populated solely by Français de souche, the party can do no more than gather up the intransigent rump of ressentiment.

The exception of Orange remains to be explained. There, Jacques Bompard was elected on the first round with over 60 percent of the vote. To be sure, he hasn't been a member of the FN for quite some time, but the stigma remains. And then in Nice, Christian Estrosi, who was to have saved the city for the UMP, failed to dispose of the unsavory incumbent Jacques Peyrat in the first round, as he had hoped. Voters seem to have held against him the fact that he spent 138,000 euros of their money for a chartered jet to take him from Washington to Paris for a dinner with other Sarkozy intimates at the Élysée in January. A costly error. One hopes it was a good dinner.

A Note on the Municipals

Commenter Ben wrote:

On a side note, Segolene's call for an overall alliance tonight is just as tactical as it is strategic. The writing on the wall is that Bertrand Delanoë is going to ally himself with the MoDem in Paris therefore accomplishing a PS wet dream of an alliance going from the Communists and the Greens to the Center.

It would have been very damaging to her in the forecasted fight between the two to be the next PS Presidential candidate if she had let Delanoë be at the forefront of that new potential political configuration. Events sort of forced her to make that overreaching call (since the MoDem is clearly allied with the UMP is a good number of cities) to try to "top" Delanoë's likely achievement this week.

I think this comment overstates the case. For one thing, Royal has been calling for a "broad party of the left stretching from MoDem to the extreme left" ever since she made her post-election return a few months ago. See, in particular, my remarks on her appearances in Cambridge, where she made this goal quite explicit. So I don't think there was any need to pre-empt Delanoë, who has been very discreet about what program, if any, he intends to put forward in a bid for the party leadership.

Second, Delanoë may choose to forgo any explicit overture to MoDem, since he is in a strong enough position to win without making any such concession. He might even enhance his position in the party leadership contest by availing himself of this strength and avoiding unnecessary and ambiguous compromise. Only in the 5th Arr., where Lynne Cohen-Solal's PS list is 3 points behind Jean Tiberi's UMP, does an alliance with MoDem seem indispensable.

Third, I agree with Ben that Royal's weakness remains her lack of clarity about what principles underlie her readiness to make tactical compromises. That's why I included Nouveau Centre in my remarks. To ally with MoDem is to indicate an opening to the center that is purely anti-Sarkozyste. It would be a quite different thing if a candidate for the PS leadership were to say, We are prepared to welcome centrists who agree with us on such-and-such definition of "the social market economy," or some such formula, regardless of where they stand on Sarkozy, and regardless of their position vis-à-vis potential coalition members who stand to the left of the PS. That would signal a genuine shift. If the municipal elections signify anything for the future of politics at the national level (and I don't think they signify much), it is that rejection of Sarkozy as a personality is not a winning strategy for the Left. With Sarkozy arguably at the nadir of his popularity, still the Left scored only 47 percent nationally.