Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Next?

The next week in French politics promises to be interesting. Alain Juppé has to decide how fierce an attack to mount against Fillon, who stands on the brink of victory. Juppé can make an open appeal to the left by pointing out that Fillon's policies promise to magnify a hundredfold the tentative baby steps toward a liberalized market economy represented by the hated Lois El Khomri and Macron. Or he can conclude that his best course is to let the left mobilize itself if it so chooses while he saves himself for what? A ministry in the Fillon regime? Would he even want it? it's hardly even a choice.

This is therefore the last shot of his career, and he should go all out for it. But on France2 last night, he seemed, to coin a phrase, "usé, vieilli, fatigué" (as Jospin famously said of Chirac in 2002, for you youngsters out there). He was trying to appear relaxed, at ease, unfazed by his defeat and its unexpected magnitude. But he failed. The cameras had caught him earlier dining with his family at Allard, a Parisian eatery I know well. Like Juppé, it is respectable but a bit "usé, vieilli, fatigué." The same segment of the news showed Fillon donning a crash helmet for a spin around the track: his hobby is racing automobiles. The contrast was unmistakable: Fillon, young, dynamic, a bit dare-devil, burning rubber off his Michelin tires, vs. Juppé, contented bourgeois at his Michelin-rated table.

Evidently, the TV news producers think it's over, then. What if they're right? Can Fillon's Thatcherism à la française really be made to seem the policy for French renewal merely by wrapping it in a Nomex racing suit and buckling on a crash helmet? Surely not in 2016, with the entire world in revolt against neoliberalism. In short, Fillon's stunning victory locks the "respectable right" into a set of policies already in disrepute and rejected by substantial segments of electorates in all the advanced democracies. Marine Le Pen must be licking her chops.

Can Fillon stop Le Pen? I'm not at all sure. She will blast him--rightly--as the representative of everything left-wing protesters have been demonstrating against for the past five years. And there will be no sugar-coating of sauce Hollandaise (to mix metaphors).

Meanwhile, a gaping hole opens in the center of the spectrum. Several contenders are available to fill it. First of all, Emmanuel Macron, le jeune espoir. He has several things going for him: youth, charm, a reputation for speaking his mind, and a je ne sais quoi of "modernism," as a French official put it to me the other day. He also has serious disadvantages: no party, an ambidextrous identity of ni droite ni gauche, association with the hated financial sector, which made him wealthy at a very young age, and a tendency to come off as just a bit too smart and cocky.

Then there is Manuel Valls, if he decides to get in. He has cultivated the left-center terrain that Macron wants to occupy for years. But he stuck with Hollande longer than was healthy for a presidential run. If he had broken with the president when Macron did, he would be in a better position now. Both men remain tainted by their long association with Hollande.

Montebourg, it is said, could beat Hollande in the primary should the president decide to run, but he is a bit too far to the left of center to attract the votes of the right that a centrist candidate would need to win. He might team up with Mélenchon to attract the votes of the far left, but there aren't enough votes there to put him across the finish line, and Mélenchon would definitively alienate everyone on the right.

And then, as my friend Greg Brown forcefully reminded me this morning, there is Bayrou, the perennial bridesmaid. It has been rumored that he had a deal with Juppé, whom he backed for president, to become prime minister if Juppé won. Bayrou also said that he would run himself if Sarkozy, whom he detests, won the primary of the right. With the Sarkozy dragon now slain but Juppé on the verge of elimination, Bayrou could decide to run himself. It's more than a little late to mount a candidacy, however. And Bayrou is also a bit usé, vieilli, et fatigué, even if it's true that Fillon, who has been in politics longer than either Juppé or Bayrou, is hardly the ingénu, despite his exploits on the racetrack.

If 3 or 4 of these potential "centrist" (Macron) or "left-centrist" (Valls, Montebourg) or "right-centrist" (Bayrou) candidates get in as Juppé substitutes, you have quite a mess in the center and a potentially divided vote, ensuring a Fillon-Le Pen face-off in round 2. If the center coalesces around one candidate, my guess is that it will be Macron, who, for all his weaknesses, combines the advantages of political virginity with important establishment backing. But until now I have thought his media-driven candidacy would collapse when put to the test of retail politicking. He has many vulnerabilities that Le Pen could exploit, but he also has the important advantage of being more acceptable to voters on the right than any of his potential rivals (except possibly Bayrou, but Bayrou doesn't have the wind in his sails as Macron does).

Frédéric Lefebvre-Naré, how do you see a Bayrou candidacy?

In short, it's a free-for-all, and a Le Pen victory is looking less unthinkable to me today than it did last week. That is of course terrible news. The worst, as Donald Trump might say. Not nice.


bert said...

There's a head-to-head debate before the second round, right? Should be a very interesting watch.

The unpredictability comes from the fact that no one's clear about what the decisive cleavages are in the electorate. Certainly if you're only using left-right, you're missing much of the picture.

In the UK right now people are talking about the JAMs, which stands for Just About Managing. It's the section of the electorate that has shown itself responsive to populism and is thus deemed by the current government to deserve fawning attention. In France apparently, JAMs stands for Jeunes Avec Macron (http://lesjeunesavecmacron.fr/).
Hmm, I dunno. Does that website say 'majority' to you?
Without Juppé, the road opens up for Macron.
For what it's worth, he strikes me as a weak reed, thinly rooted.

But what do I know?

The fog of war is thicker than its been for a long time.

Tim said...

As someone who is not French I am getting tired of the emotional blackmail being conducted by the Le Pen-ists and their working class supporters. Screw Em. A lot us in this world live in countries like Canada where don't have Le Pen or Trump style populism. I am not sure exactly at this point what those of us who are Kiwis, Canadians, Australians etc should do to make Le Pen's working class base feel better about their lot in life.

Alexandra Marshall said...

Alain Juppé as quoted by L'Express: "Je suis catholique, je suis baptisé, je m'appelle Alain Marie." Not just usé, etc, but very obviously following Fillon. It's worse than deflated, it's pathetic. I also worry a lot about Macron. A lot. I haven't slept a full night without somnifères since Nov 8. It's not getting any easier.

FrédéricLN said...

Thanks Art for calling!

Three very preliminary points about a Bayrou candidacy:

1. His reactions to the Fillon success were as "vieillies, usées, fatiguées" as Juppé's. It looks like Bayrou and his councellor Sarnez believed once again (as they did in 1990-1995 with Giscard then Balladur) in Paris-made politics (meaning, for your readers, something like Washingtonian will less civil servants, more Wall Street-like interests, and more Californian goût de vivre - all of it "clintonian"). As far as short-term tactics are concerned, he is off the game and Macron is in.

2. From my point of view, Bayrou as a person still has what France presently needs for her head of State: independence from special interests and obsolete social structures (including our trade unions), and global / up to date vision of economy and the society. (Well, maybe his vision did a bit vanish, but compared to Valls, Fillon and the like, c'est le jour et la nuit. Hear, Bayrou speaks English decently! OK, Fillon does certainly (his wife is Welsh), too, but Hollande or Sarkozy do not).

3. There would be some political space left: Fillon and Macron are highly parisien and bourgeois candidacies, and Marine Le Pen is too, as a person, despite the strongholds of FN are in the North-Eastern and South-Eastern France. There is room for a non-parisien, non-bourgeois, non-"politically correct" message, and hope, and agenda. In order to regain this political space where his candidacy could find strength and momentum, Bayrou would have to recommit himself, and his remaining supporters, to the democratic vision he learned in Béarn (a region with a 1000 years old democratic tradition) and during his studies in Bordeaux, and to a common sensical, "roots-based" Weltanschauung. I'm sure he is still able and young enough to do that. His job as mayor of Pau certainly helped him. But a) will he really try, and hard enough? b) That is exactly where his 40-years-long-friend Jean Lassalle's candidacy already runs and gained credibility and support since 6 months. If Bayrou kept on rejecting Lassalle's candidacy and preferring his own, how would he manage that? That is actually not impossible, as Lassalle's candidacy remains weak. But uneasy to manage within Democrats/MoDem tiny inner circles.

To make it shorter: being "in the center" and trying to occupy it, has no electoral potential in France (and maybe also not in the USA…). The power of the center lies in its potential to fly or dive, outside of the two-poles stick between right and left. When (traditional) left and right run on similar Weltanschauungs, there is hope for the center.

bernard said...

As you so delicately point out, Fillon's apparently likely victory this coming sunday makes for a complicated political situation. Complicated political situations are interesting politically as they lend themselves to multiple possible outcomes.

One very interesting point in this situation, made by millions but noted by few is taht last sunday's vote signified that the right should be the right: antisocial, reactionary values, you name it, and no Parisian bling bling, staid, provincial. The French electorate clearly wants a right that is the right and a left that is the left. They do not seem interested in a centrist right or a centrist left. The center can choose which way to lean but the electorate seems to want them to lean rather than lead.

It could indeed be Montebourg, it will be Aubry should she finally decide to throw her hat in the mélée (no idea if she will). Valls may decide to run if Hollande does not, but I doubt if party members will go for him as he is too closely associated with policies implemented under Hollande.

The story is far from finished I suspect. Not least, with public expenditure at 57% of GDP, a majority of the French depend on the state for their meal, not just the civil servants, and they are actually getting their meal contrary to, say, a soviet citizen in the 1980s. Those French will be voting in the coming election. From my point of view, they just need to be reminded of this fact of their existence and that is certainly what I would suggest a left candidate do.

Neither Le Pen nor Fillon are elected yet. This situation is more complex than appears and lends itself to several outcomes.

jules said...

A question-

In the US, Sanders was able to stir something up, and his left-populism could arguably (though some might call this wishful thinking) have been more effective than Clinton's... Clintonism.

Is there a left candidate to make an actual run? Is JL Melenchon or the like a never-gonna-happen?

I don't know if the French would consider an anti-establishment leftist a breath of fresh air like Sanders was considered here, because the left has had its day in France before. But, I don't know enough about France to know if that's true. It seems, though, that the only options are Le Pen or Clintonesque candidates, and I find that there is room on the populist left for a real candidate who garners real votes and gets really mentioned in the news and on your blog.


Anonymous said...

Some people on the right and center, being sure Juppé would be in the second round, voted for Fillon to block Sarkozy. (Was surprised at that!) Some thought that, if push comes to shove, Fillon is better against Le Pen. Some people on the left, convinced it'd be Sarko vs. Juppé, saved their 2€ for the second roung and plan on coming this time. Some may not, since the detested Sarko is no longer in play.
All in all, I don't think a majority of French people want a 48h workweek, 39 hours minimum (but 4 of those would be unpaid), for instance. And the Thatcher reference is very outdated, too. I mean, the 80's were 30 years ago...
Finally, I heard IMF Chief Christine Lagarde say that she'd pushed very hard for the end of austerity measures, which are currently hurting growth and stoking populist risks; and the IMF is far from a leftist outfit.

bert said...

Tim, I don't know if you're still around, but this was a good listen.


A couple of engaging speakers. Unlike last night.

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand how people would vote for someone who wants to make them work 48h a week and thus lose out on hundreds of euros in overtime pay. (French people already work 39-40h/week, but they typically get 2-3 hours in overtime pay + "RTT", hours off that they can cumulate to have long weekends that fuel the tourism industry and DIY stores' sales.)
8 million people watched the debate yesterday, which is a testament to French people's fortitude, because it was dry and boring, seriously.