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17 November 2006 Blog Home : November 2006 : Permalink

French Royal News

Ségolène Royal cruised to victory in yesterday's Socialist Party (PS) primary. As Eursoc notes she did so in a rather stunning reversal of pre-vote opinion polls winning over 60% of the vote when the polls suggested she might have to face a run off because she'd get less than 50%. Given that she was most certainly the outsider candidate in the poll, I kind of wonder whether the opinion polls were as unbiased as one would have hoped. I have absolutely no evidence for this possibility except that the pollers were continually asking PS supporters rather than the more relevant PS members or, even better, PS members likely to vote. Given that the PS membership is undeniably more lefty than the PS support base and that in many ways Ségo is also a real lefty, despite the anti-teacher video comments that coincidentally showed up a few days ago, it should have been no surprise that she would poll better amongst the PS membership than amongst PS supporters.

Across the water Dafydd at Big Lizards follows more conventional wisdom (by quoting the ever accurate NY Slimes) in assuming that the result was more of a surprise. Having said that I think he is right when he says that Ségo is not the sharpest knife in the rack and that her grasp of the details of current affairs could best be defined as shaky. However cocking up the details is by no means a fatal sin in a politician, both Ronald Reagan and George W Bush have had their "doh" moments, as have zillions of other successful politicians. There is of course one key difference between a vague Reagan and a vague Royal and that is that the former was absolutely certain of his principles and pretty much worked from principles to strategies to tactics to details, letting subordinates do more in the later stages. I am far from convinced that Royal has many underlying principles (except winning) and that what principles she has are based on 1970s era socialist thought (i.e. economically catastrophic). The Wapping Liar's Charles Bremner thinks somewhat likewise:

The Socialists have stuck with sub-Marxist ideology even if they have not practised it while in power. Unlike the big left parties in Germany, Britain and other west European nations, they have never reformed into market-friendly social democrats. Their candidate is supposed to carry the doctrinal banner into battle and adhere to party discipline.

Now Royal has by-passed all of that with a vague and often-changing mix of ideas, some old left and some from conservative territory. She has won over the left by casting herself as a woman in touch with the people. She appeals in a modern way to old-fashioned values. The Paris chattering classes may laugh at her, but she reassures the ordinary people beyond the boulevard périphérique.

I fear that she may appear pragmatic enough to sucker people in to vote for her in April because her mix of "tough on crime" pragmatism and nanny-state economic socialism is actually highly attractive to a significant chunk of France. No matter what we might hope for, I am absolutely positive that foreign and EU affairs, not to mention topics like global warming or terrorism, will not play a large part in next year's election. The election will be fought on internal French issues, primarily crime and (un)employment, with next in line mention of pensions, the economy (inc privatisation) and "the French way of life".

The next question is who her main opponent will be. General opinion polls indicate (and have done for months) that she would crush any centre-right candidate other than Sarko, so unless the UMP has a suicidal streak, Sarko will be their candidate. It would take some enormous cock up by Sarko for him to lose voter popularity compared to his rivals, even if within the UMP he might be less popular. In other words unlike the socialists, Sarko is more popular outside the party than within it where the lavish favours of l'Escroc and his cronies could have greater influence.

If there were any politician anywhere who most merited comparison to Miles Vorkosigan it would be Sarko. I am sure that if you asked a group of Frenchmen who the dismissive description of Miles as "hyperactive little git" (translated into French or course) referred to, Sarko would be the recipient of about 99% of all votes.
I have no doubt that Sarko will play up his government experience compared to Royal, and his (hyper)activity. Since there is, I would say, a distinct yearning for action and change, Sarko's record as a man who gets things done is likely to prove popular. Also his ability to really relate to individuals when he meets them and to talk in their language seems to work. His (in)famous comment about the rioters last year - calling them scum - was definitely one of those moments. It is clear that when the comment is put into context not only was it unremarkable it was precisely what the people he was talking to thought and quite resonant with other people in France too. The fact that he got hit for it says more about how l'Escroc and co feared him than anything else.

If l'Escroc and the UMP establishment were to get another candidate on the ballot instead of Sarko - defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie being the most likely in my opinion because that would make it woman vs woman - then I would not be at all surprised to see Le Pen repeat his 2002 trick and come second in the first round of voting, with Ségo top. I suspect that it is this fear that will ensure that Sarko does indeed get the nomination, even if it turns out to be somewhat grudging. And this will, as Eursoc concludes, leave the French with an interesting choice of candidates:

So it looks like Sarko vs Ségo. That would make France's next president an anti-globalising interventionist with an authoritarian streak. But only one of them looks good in a bikini.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin