Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Vote Challenges

Discussed here. This thing ain't over, and won't be until the thin lady sings.

Commission de Récolement

The PS will verify all the votes:

Daniel Vaillant, secrétaire national du PS, a indiqué samedi en début de soirée qu'une "commission de récolement" (vérification contradictoire) du parti se réunira lundi matin pour examiner les résultats du vote.

(h/t Boz) The word récolement is one I'd never encountered before:

Opération consistant à dénombrer un ensemble d'objets répertoriés dans un inventaire, ou à vérifier la conformité d'une opération, d'un objet à un ensemble de règlements ou de prescriptions contractuelles; p. méton., procès-verbal de cette opération. Récolement d'inventaire; récolement des meubles saisis, d'une coupe de bois; procès-verbal de récolement. Une commission est chargée de l'examen de la comptabilité des fonds administratifs (...). Elle fait un récolement général du mobilier appartenant à l'assemblée (Règlement Ass. nat., 1849, p. 36). La principale originalité de cette organisation consiste dans le classement des livres par ordre d'entrée (...) dans un registre qui sert à la fois de registre d'entrée, d'inventaire, de classement, et de récolement (Civilis. écr., 1939, p. 48-5).

Down to 18

It seems that the Socialist federation in Moselle miscounted its votes: Aubry's margin is now down to 18.

And then there's this.

Juppé Calls for Structure

Alain Juppé: one hadn't heard from him in some time, but here he is suggesting that Sarkozy's predilection for running in every direction at once perhaps isn't the best way to make forward progress. Yet he says he isn't interested in leaving Bordeaux himself to resume a career at the national level. Still, he's putting his name back in circulation just as thoughts begin to turn to remaniement with the end of the EU presidency, the beginning of a new year, and the deepening of the global economic crisis. I wouldn't rule out an important post for Juppé.

Rocard on the RMI

As the RMI (revenu minimum d'insertion) gives way to the RSA (revenu de solidarité active), Michel Rocard, who as prime minister secured passage of the RMI, reflects on its history. His ruminations prompt three comments. First, he seems to have been motivated by genuine compassion for the plight of the long-term unemployed, indeed by horror at the thought that there were people dying of starvation in the heart of France. Second, his weaknesses as a politician are highlighted by his response to the question about whether the RMI is the political achievement of which he is most proud. No, he says, because the RMI was a consensual policy; across the political spectrum everyone agreed that something needed to be done. His proudest achievement--in terms of pure governmental technique--was rather the CSG (contribution sociale généralisée), the tax that paid for it, which he says cost him ten percent of his support, but he got it through. It will come as no surprise that a politician who boasts of levying a new tax as his proudest achievement failed to win the presidency that he coveted.

But my third comment gets at a deeper reason for this failure. Rocard's compassion does him credit, as does his candor in recognizing that compassion has to be paid for, and paying for it is, politically, the tough part, which rarely commands consensus. What is puzzling, however, is that while he recognizes that the need for a compassionate measure like the RMI stemmed from the persistence of a high-level of unemployment, and in particular of long-term unemployment, the question of what caused that condition never comes up. It's as though Rocard simply accepted as an unalterable fact a structural unemployment rate above 10 percent, although he governed at a time when other economies were doing much better.

To be sure, the economic meltdown now has everyone questioning how much of this past divergence in economic performance was real and how much a product of unnoticed systemic flaws. But however illusory neoliberal gains will turn out to have been, the fact remains that the high-unemployment equilibrium of the French social model should have been attacked more vigorously than it was and not merely palliated with innovative welfare measures such as the RMI and its doppelgänger, the CSG. It is troubling that the deep economic issue does not even come up in Rocard's retrospective. True, the focus of the interview was the RMI, and this may have turned his thoughts in a certain direction, but still I would have thought that a man as attuned to economic thinking as Rocard would have been led naturally to a question that looms so large behind the entire discussion, especially since the reason for the RMI's replacement by the RSA is that the latter is supposed to eliminate a "structural rigidity" that has tended to turn the former into a poverty trap. Rocard cannot be unaware of all this, but his success with the RMI seems to have become a "screen memory" that shields him from the repressed horror of intolerable levels of long-term unemployment, which destroyed lives just as surely as the death by starvation that he evokes in his discussion.

Besancenot by Pingaud

A review of a book on the "Besancenot phenomenon" by Denis Pingaud can be found here. The curiosity here is that Pingaud is vice-president of OpinionWay, the polling firm that Ségolène Royal accused of a systematic tilt toward Sarkozy. Besancenot is presented as almost a creature of polling. It was because he polled well, we are told, that the LCR, of which he was a little-noticed adherent until the 2002 election, chose to make him its candidate, whereupon he made what Pascal Perrineau calls the delicate transition from "polling popularity" to "electoral popularity." But at the same time the 2002 vote for the LCR candidate is described as an "influence vote," that is, a message sent by disgruntled voters to the PS leadership that it was unhappy with the politics they had on offer.

I'm not sure whether the intention here is to inflate or deflate Besancenot. Are we supposed to infer that unhappy voters simply searched for the gauchiste with the best poll numbers in order to send the loudest possible message to Solférino? There was no dearth of options for expressing a protest vote in 2002. Or perhaps the book is simply a reminder that the PS had best take seriously the exit option that was exercised by so many of its potential supporters in 2002 and 2007. Besancenot is there to pick up the chips that the PS seems determined to leave on the table. Last night's debacle makes the warning all the more timely.

Of course it may also be that increasing numbers of Socialists are turning to Besancenot not simply as a protest or coup de semonce but as a genuine option: Sire, ce n'est pas une révolte, c'est une révolution. The times may well lend themselves to such a radicalization. Or then again--ultimate possibility--it may be that the vice-president of an allegedly right-wing polling firm sees an opportunity to deepen division on the left by magnifying le phénomène Besancenot that he himself argues polling and publicity helped to create. It has often been suggested that Sarkozy has an interest in building up Besancenot and has encouraged his sympathizers in the media to do just that. It's Mitterrand and the Front National in reverse--so goes the theory.

Yes, a conspiracy theory, some will scoff -- but what would politics be without a little conspiracy? Pingaud's book is reviewed, however, by Thierry Germain, the editor of Esprit critique, the journal of the Fondation Jean Jaurès, which can hardly be suspected of either Trotskyite or Sarkozyste sympathies, and the review is published as well by, of which the same can be said. Germain sees Pingaud's book as rather a plea addressed to the leaders of the PS: the "Besancenot effect" is real and must be seriously addressed or the party will suffer another defeat in 2012.

A timely warning indeed, although at the moment the PS seems well on the way to defeating itself in 2012 without any help from Besancenot.