by John Redmond
Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 09:04:33 AM EST
As astute political observers have noted over the past three decades, an increasing divorce has installed itself between the French people and its political elites. There are many debates about the origin of the Gallic malaise, which despite the elite conventional wisdom has virtually nothing to do with its supposedly hidebound labor laws. And, it is true that Gallic Malaise is a common theme in French polity, dating as far back as the aftermath of the revolutionary period itself. Invocations of this malaise have often carried a revanchist tint, the supposedly terminal French decline certainly not being confirmed by a healthy demography and, until recently, a strong economy. But, it is a powerful meme, one which one sees in public discourse and in punditry, especially on the right.
It is nonetheless a meme which is quite powerful today, and is consuming the Presidency of François Hollande, whose days appear more numbered than ever, if one is to believe a recent poll indicating that only 4% of the French electorate think he should even run for re-election. Indeed, according to some polls, were he to run, he could even find himself relegated to 5th place in the first round, behind Marine Le Pen, who is in first place in most polling, Nicolas Sarkozy (if he wins the LR primary on the right), centrist candidate François Bayrou (who has indicated he will run if Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for LR) and Jean-Luc Mélanchon on the left. Why? Because Mr Hollande is arguably the most tone-deaf President the French elite have ever produced, once famously opining that voters are not to be trusted, as they don't really know what they want.
Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger
Hollande's presidency was an own-goal from the start. Campaigning on a classic left program, invoking high finance is his enemy, promising a roll-back of previous President Sarkozy's pension reforms and a lowering of unemployment, criticizing Sarkozy's VAT increases as regressive, and contesting the balanced budget amendment agreed between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (the moniker "Merkozy" being a common epithet in the 2012 election campaign, and candidate Hollande promised to go to Berlin and renegotiate what he was then calling the "austerity pact"), Mr Hollande, once installed in the Elysée, backtracked on virtually all of it save for pensions. Indeed, he did go to Berlin, one of the first things he did once in office, and promptly came back and had his Parti Socialiste majority ratify Merkozy's austerity budget deal. Further, he enacted economic and labor market reforms which at times seemed to have been written by the Medef, France's largest employer organization, while later admitting that the Sarkozy VAT increase, regressive as it is, was a good idea after all. And, of course, unemployment is now higher than it was under Sarkozy.
Unfortunately, it is unclear whether Mr Hollande has yet taken note of his demise. Signs that he has not abound. And he continues to insist that he will make his intentions known at the end of the year. This is a problem for the PS, which is bound by its bylaws to hold a primary election, and initial agreements were in place to have it take place in early December, with a November 1st deadline for candidatures, and therefore before Hollande's ultimate decision. Perhaps because of these conflicting calendars, the PS, despite this agreement, has taken no steps to actually organize it. Recent reports have Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the current leader of the Parti Socialiste, under pressure from François Hollande to not hold the primary, and indeed Mr Cambadélis is publicly expressing the possibility that an exceptional PS convention be held to rescind the bylaw concerning the primary.
Why the pressure? Because not only is François Hollande unpopular with the voting public, polling in the low teens for approval. François Hollande is also very unpopular with the left, ostensibly the PS' core voters. In fact, were the PS to actually hold such an election, Mr Hollande would badly lose, with him polling at 19% among voters with left sympathies (the eligible electorate for the PS primary), behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Nicolas Hulot, Manual Valls and Emannuel Macron. Among left voters, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is by far the most popular candidate to represent the left, though among PS voters (perhaps half of the "left" electorate) this is not the case. It should be noted that Mr Mélenchon has adopted much the same Euro skepticism as the left in the Netherlands, so his increasing popularity should be seen in this light. The EU is even less popular in France today than it is in the UK.
Less than one year away now from the end of an error.