Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The State of the Race

Here is my latest piece on the French presidential race. And here is a scoop not in the article: my read of yesterday's luncheon summit at the Elysée is that Hollande told Valls that he is not going to run for re-election.


bert said...

Arun gives your argument a decorous kicking.
But his argument seems weak to me.

A good place to start is the piece he links to at the end, but doesn't endorse, by Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane. It says that French contrariness and suspicion of the Anglosphere will save us all from Le Pen. MacShane has spent some time in prison recently but even behind bars it can't have escaped his attention that populism is a well-rooted and spreading phenomenon across the continent. Holland, Denmark, Austria, Poland, Hungary, to name only the most obvious headline cases outside France.
Le Pen's strength rests on this central premise: that next year's election will be decided on populist themes.

Both yourself and Arun focus on Fillon's domestic agenda. In the aftermath of his impressive victory and the inevitable waft of warm air he's had from the positive coverage it has earned him, there's been a repeated claim from pro-business and establishment media sources: desire for 'change' will translate directly into support for an explicitly Thatcherite programme. That is at the very least an untested proposition.
Arun suggests he may temper his programme, and says that in any case fonctionnaires won't vote FN. Let's say that's true. How about manual workers? Or the unemployed?
As you say, there is plenty of room to run a populist campaign against liberal shock and rupture.

And the target-rich domestic agenda is only the first of three potential focuses for a populist backlash.
The second is the EU elite and its French enablers. France has no exchange rate, no independent monetary policy, and a severely constrained fiscal policy. Such fiscal leeway as it currently enjoys comes from a nervous agreement inside the Council and the Commission to temporarily suspend enforcement of the rules. It would be trivially easy to characterise Fillon's regressive domestic agenda as a capitulation to these constraints. Would this kind of populism also have traction on the left? Try explaining Montebourg's projected 50%+ in the PS primary second round without it.

The third focus of FN populism is of course the brown-skinned Other.
This is presumably an area where Fillon would attempt to respond in kind. But he would be forced to either defend or disavow Sarkozy-era policy. Whatever his success, you have to reckon this is native FN territory.

Arun has two main arguments to counter these concerns. The first is that MLP has strongly negative approval ratings. He makes a reasonable case why this is a bigger problem for her than for Trump. I'll simply note that Trump not only had terrible overall approval numbers, but was negative on specific questions of competence and temperament among his own voters. Recent history suggests that arguments based on poll numbers have a habit of unravelling fast.
Arun's second argument is that it's still early and much can still happen.
Absolutely. No problem conceding that.
Here's two dates coming up in the diary which might have a profound effect. This weekend's Italian referendum, which will either plunge us into a new eurozone crisis or be this year's Millennium Bug, or may perhaps be something in between. And this spring's warmer weather, which will once more increase the numbers crossing the Mediterranean. EU policy, imposed by Germany against broad reluctance elsewhere, is to rely heavily on Turkey. The latest from Erdogan suggests that this approach is vulnerable to the slightest pressure.

tl,dr: Defending the Real France against domestic elites, EU elites and foreign migrants would add up to a viable and possibly winning populist campaign.

Anonymous said...

Quick comment in response to both Art and Bert:

I'm wondering whether mainstream politicians like Fillon, but also Manuel Valls will end up legitimizing what you call "fear of the brown-skinned other." Both have more or less explicitly attacked France's anti-racist movements: Valls, for instance, through his critique of the concept of Islamophobia; and through his strongly-worded response to a New York Times article on the situation of Muslim women this summer; and Fillon through his promise to have history books re-written to omit "repentance" from curricula.

In other words, will positions like the aforementioned end up actually boosting Marine LePen's stock at the polls by conceding her point that anti-racist PC movements, rather than fear of brown and black people, are the real problem?

Alexandra Marshall said...

Anonymous, the right has no monopoly on racism and ethnocentrism in France. Valls is a perfect case in point. In fact very few white French commentators on the left distinguished themselves as much other than condemnable or at least patronizing as hell ("these poor women must be made to see how they are slaves to Muslim patriarchy") during the burkini brouhaha this summer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alexandra. I don't know that I'd call Valls a racist. I'd just distinguish Fillon's benefits-of-colonization-type narrative, which appeals to a Christian conservative electorate, from Valls' use of the "ideal republicain" as a cudgel against anti-racist movements. It's fascinating to see how some supporters of said ideal find anti-racist activity as threatening as extremist right-wing rhetoric.

JCW (should have used initials in my first post).

Bernard said...

Hollande to speak tonight 8pm Paris time-urgent

Alexandra Marshall said...

Anonymous, well observed. I am American, and we tend to go in with the r word a bit sooner than our friends across the pond. Chalk it up to experience?