Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Study of FN

Alexandre Dézé and the Fondation Jean Jaurès have just published a new study of the FN which makes a number of important points. I have been asking myself lately if the intense media attention to the FN has not tended to minimize the obstacles to its further expansion and to exaggerate the threat of its imminent assumption of power. The new study tackles this point head on:

Is the FN "the first party in France." No.

Sans nier les très bons résultats électoraux du FN, l'étude observe qu'aux dernières municipales, son score n'a atteint que 4,7% des suffrages, comme en 1995; que, dans les 415 villes de plus de 10 000 habitants où il présentait des listes, le FN a recueilli un résultat légèrement inférieur en voix à celui de Marine Le Pen à l'élection présidentielle de 2012; que les conseillers municipaux "ne représentent que 0,2% de l'ensemble des conseillers municipaux en France". Par ailleurs, le FN ne dispose que de 118 conseillers régionaux sur 4108 (jusqu'aux prochaines régionales en tous les cas), de deux députés sur 577, de deux sénateurs sur 348 et se situe derrière l'UMP et le PS en nombre d'adhérents. Selon Alexandre Dézé, il se situait en novembre 2014 à 42 130 personnes (22 329 militants ayant participé à la réélection de Marine Le Pen avec un taux de participation donné à 53%).

Is it at the "gates of power"? No.

Selon le chercheur, "le FN ne bénéficie ni de l'implantation ni du réseau d'élus ni même du nombre de cadres suffisants pour prétendre à l'exercice du pouvoir au niveau national". Autre souci majeur: le parti n'est toujours pas une machine de second tour, comme les départementales l'ont encore démontré récemment. La faute à son incapacité à sceller les alliances nécessaires avec d'autres formations pour parvenir à s'imposer. Autant de freins reconnus lundi par Jean-Marie Le Pen lui-même. "Au Front national, prévient-il, un certain nombre de gens déclarent qu'ils sont aux portes du pouvoir. C'est qu'ils ne savent pas ce qu'est le pouvoir, ni où il est. Nous ne sommes pas exactement aux portes du pouvoir parce qu'on a fait quatre, cinq ou même six millions de voix. Il faut en faire plus que ça."
It is instructive to compare the FN to the PCF of old. Although there are significant differences between the electoral bases of the two parties, there is also significant overlap. There were real limits to the electoral potential of the PCF, yet its presence on the scene shaped, not to say distorted, political debate for two generations. That is the real threat of the FN today. Its themes have become the focal point of debate, to the detriment of rational political discourse.  This won't be easy to change.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ethnography of a Strange Tribe: L'Elite parisienne politico-intellectuelle

Richard Descoings, the late director of Sciences Po, went out in style. Raphaëlle Bacqué of Le Monde is about to publish a book about him. The excerpt in today's paper is not to be missed. It seems that Pope Francis is not the only Catholic to have adopted a somewhat flexible line on the gay question:

Ce fut pourtant une sorte d’étrangeté de voir arriver ce cercueil au milieu des calices d’or et des cierges, entourés des étudiants catholiques de l’école venus servir la dernière messe de leur directeur. Quelques jours auparavant, le patron de la SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, et Nadia Marik, la femme de Descoings, avaient annoncé sa mort ensemble, sur les faire-part publiés dans la presse. Même le Père Matthieu Rougé ne parut pas s’en formaliser. Le prêtre et confesseur des députés de la paroisse Sainte-Clotilde, à deux pas de l’Assemblée nationale, avait été appelé à la rescousse pour cette étonnante célébration. Comme les amis qui se succédèrent en un dernier hommage, il débuta son sermon en saluant pareillement l’épouse et l’ancien compagnon : « Chère Nadia, cher Guillaume »…
Descoings, it appears, anticipated his own death in a rather strange note:

Le matin même de son départ pour New York, trois jours avant sa mort, Richard Descoings envoya un message, comme une prémonition ironique, à ses collaborateurs : « Si l’on s’écrase, la messe aura lieu à Saint-Sulpice : Mozart à tue-tête, Plug n’Play au premier rang. Pas d’argent pour le cancer, tout pour les fleurs. »
And just in case the Plug n'Play reference is lost on you, as it was on me, Bacqué explains:
La cérémonie grandiose que fut son enterrement ne respecta qu’à moitié ses directives. Les funérailles eurent bien lieu, le 11 avril 2012, à l’église Saint-Sulpice, au cœur de Paris, mais l’association Plug n’Play des « gays, lesbiennes, bis, trans, queer de Sciences Po » fut discrètement renvoyée sur les bords de la nef. A sa place, au premier rang, de l’autre côté des bancs réservés à la famille et aux amis accablés par le chagrin, s’installa le plus complet assortiment de la nomenklatura française.

The Dangerous Le Pen?


So, Der Alte is on the way out, and now we can relax, right? With him have gone the FN Old Guard, the ex-paras, the streetfighters of the extreme-right groupuscules, and the unreconstructed colons of a bygone era. Only the sleek new énarquisé gay-friendly FN remains. But now comes an interesting analysis by Olivier Picard of the "Marion" effect. And what if the really dangerous FN leader were not Jean-Marie or Marine but the smiling petite representative of the next generation, Marion Maréchal, who added Le Pen to her name when she went into the family business?

Jeune, blonde, mince, plutôt souriante avec une légère coquetterie dans l’œil qui la rendrait, au premier regard, presque sympathique, et une voix tranquille, autrement plus agréable à l’oreille que les intonations rauques de sa tante Marine : la jeune élue donne chair à elle seule à la dédiabolisation frontiste.
Avec un pouvoir amnésique : une seule image fait oublier le cauchemar des éructations xénophobes et des haines revanchardes de ses admirateurs et amis. 2 minutes et 30 secondes face caméra écrasent le "détail" de l’histoire, la glorification de l’œuvre de Pétain et la brutalité d’un "grand-père" promoteur de la gégène.
Produit marketing équipé d’un sens politique affûté, cette jeune femme avenante est un piège à journalistes. Ils semblent hypnotisés, voire tétanisés, par ce personnage inattendu qui les surprend, et qui les charme, même s’ils ne l’avoueront jamais.
Ah, ce mélange de danger et de séduction, il est tellement corrupteur.
And of course it is Mme Maréchal-Le Pen who will now head the ticket in PACA, the position her grandfather has just so ingraciously vacated.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ayrault, Critic of Hollande

Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was replaced as prime minister a little more than a year ago, has been even more discreet out of office than he was in it. Now, however, his daughter has made a film in which he reveals some of the frictions between him and Hollande. In addition to frictions, Ayrault's remarks reflect a certain bitterness toward his former boss and old (dare I also former?) friend, the president of the Republic. In particular, Ayrault cannot understand why Hollande went along with Arnaud Montebourg's rash promise to keep open the failing steel mill at Florange. What is more, Ayrault sees his replacement as the result of a conspiracy between the left wing of the part, represented by Montebourg and Benoît Hamon, and the right, led by Manuel Valls. Within months, however, the conspirators succumbed to their own insuperable differences, and Montebourg and Hamon were summarily tossed out of the government, just as Ayrault had been. Ayrault cannot understand why Hollande went along with this plot, rewarding the perennially disloyal and uncontrollable Montebourg, for whom Ayrault feels particular animosity. He is also critical of Hollande's failure to undertake the comprehensive tax reform that he, Ayrault, feels is long overdue.

Finally, Ayrault is clearly and understandably incensed by the cold way in which he was dismissed. Hollande never discussed his reasons face-to-face. Ayrault received only a brief telephone call and a cursory letter of gratitude for his service that arrived only minutes before Valls knocked at the door of the Matignon to serve his eviction notice. Never has the adage that in politics one has no friends ever been more abundantly confirmed.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jihad on TV5Monde

As I sat down last night to watch the JT 20h de France2 on TV5Monde, as I do most nights, I expected to see a recap of the Le Pen vs. Le Pen heavyweight cage match. Instead I saw a screen announcing that for technical reasons, the program could not be presented. Only this morning did I learn the reason: the international French channel had been hacked by cyberjihadists from ISIS. Srsly? as the kids say. This hits home! Taking over Iraq and Syria is one thing, but interfering with Plus Belle la Vie is another! C'est la guerre jusqu'au bout ...

Le Parti Républicain

Nicolas Sarkozy has hit upon the winning strategy. Tired of hearing his UMP linked inextricably to its supposed mirror image on the left, the PS, via the Le Penist amalgam UMPS, he has decided to rename his party Le Parti républicain. "« C'est le bon mot car la République, c'est ce qui rassemble le plus », a-t-il déclaré." One used to say, la République, c'est ce qui divise le moins, but what's the difference? Anyway, the UMP ceased to have any meaning when it went from being the Union de la Majorité Présidentielle to the Union d'un Mouvement Populaire, faute de président. What popular movement? What union? So, RIP UMP. Hello, Republican Party (but didn't France already have one of those?) It will be a clarifying move for Americans, who are used to a political contest between Republicans and Kenyan Socialists.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Le Pen as Lear

Marine Le Pen, who refers to her father simply as "Le Pen" (shall I call her "La Penne" to mark the difference?), says she will kick him off the party ticket in PACA for the regionals:
« Je m'oppose à la candidature de [Jean-Marie] Le Pen [à la tête de liste aux élections régionales en Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur], parce qu'il est dans une spirale entre la stratégie de la terre brûlée et le suicide politique. Le FN ne veut pas être pris en otage de ses grossières provocationsSon but est de me nuire. Nous allons réunir le bureau exécutif pour trouver le meilleur moyen de protéger les intérêts du mouvement. »
This split has been widening for some time, and now it seems to be an open breach. Some see it as a deliberate tactic, an inspired way to highlight the supposed "normalization" and "de-demonizatiion" of the party under the daughter's leadership. That's too cleverly Machiavellian by half, in my view. It's rather King Lear in Saint-Cloud: the aging Le Pen foolishly passed the kingdom to Goneril and is now suffering the consequences of her ambitions. Unlike Lear, however, Jean-Marie deserves his comeuppance. And his Cordelia (Marion Maréchal-Le Pen) is hardly a model of feminine virtue.

The UMP Primary: Sarkozy's Achilles' Heel?

More rapidly than expected, the UMP has adopted rules governing its presidential primary, to be held next year. Stealing a leaf from the Socialists, the party hopes to stimulate interest in its candidacy and hone its message by staging this "event" well before the presidential election, ensuring that it will receive its share of media attention. The eligibility requirements are surprisingly open: to vote in the UMP primary, one simply has to declare an interest in l'alternance (and who doesn't want to throw the bums out) and pay €2, a sum small enough not to deter anyone.

This naturally raises the question of whether Sarkozy, by agreeing to this arrangement, has not signed his own death warrant. All polls suggest that while he remains extremely popular with the hard core of the UMP base, he is much less popular in the country at large and might well lose to Alain Juppé if enough voters are willing to cross party lines to vote in the UMP race. And even if Juppé falters--his strength at the moment reflects name recognition as much as anything else, and he is not an especially good campaigner--there are other ambitieux waiting in the wings, most notably Bruno Le Maire but also NKM, Xavier Bertrand, and possibly others, depending on how things evolve. So the situation is tricky for Sarkozy, and it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Conservatism of the French

There is no doubt that the steady rise of the Front National over the past two years is worrisome, but too many observers are losing their sang-froid. Why, some ask, doesn't Hollande veer sharply to his left? For these analysts (including several commenters on this blog), the message of "the French people" is clear: the FN's diagnosis (which shares many particulars in common with that of the extreme left) is correct, France has surrendered too much of its sovereignty in economic matters to the EU, it is too subservient to Germany, and the left has dissolved into the right by accepting the need for "structural reforms" intended to enhance French "competitiveness" by broadening the tax base, shifting the burden from firms to individuals, revising the labor code, etc. In short, "Vallsism"--nothing more than a French form of Blairism with a dose of Sarkozy-like authoritarianism and grande-gueulisme thrown in for good measure--is the root of all evil.

Those who believe this analysis, or something like it, will be pulled up short by this recent IFOP poll, which shows that 61% of the French do not think that Valls should be replaced or that the course he has set in economic policy should be changed.

Having just translated Tocqueville's Souvenirs of 1848, I am perhaps unduly influenced by echoes of that era, when the vociferous cries of the Paris proletariat temporarily drowned out the conservative murmurs of the vast majority. One should never underestimate the conservatism of the French electorate--or perhaps most democratic electorates. People are rarely completely happy with their governments, but even more rarely are they prepared for radical change.

But it's not just conservatism that the support for Valls reflects. It's also realism. Instinctively, people sense that the deep problem is not one of loss of economic sovereignty. Keynesianism in one country didn't work in 1981, and France is too deeply integrated into the global economic system to think that it can save itself by throwing up an economic Maginot Line, as Le Pen proposes. Few people really believe in "economic patriotism," even if some mouth its slogans to rally their flagging spirits. Many long for a bold solution but in their hearts recognize that none may exist. The political mood is therefore dispirited but not radical.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Arun Kapil's Analysis

Arun Kapil does a thorough job of examining the departmental elections. As always, I learn a lot from what he has to say. On one point I disagree: I think he underestimates the degree to which this election consolidated Sarkozy's hold on the UMP. He's right that the victory wasn't really Sarkozy's doing: it was in the current configuration of forces all along. But Sarko reaps the benefit. Frankly, I think only the courts can stop him. Although I, like Arun, would like to see a Juppé candidacy, we have seen how Juppé has been received by the UMP base on several occasions. The just-announced rules for the UMP primary might give him an outside shot, but he's not a natural campaigner.

In the past Arun has agreed with me about Sarkozy's political skills. In this post he has lost sight of those skills because he is so dismayed by his "odious" Buisson-influenced campaign tactics. Indeed. But I think Sarko knows where the votes are. For Juppé to win the primary, hundreds of thousands of disaffected Socialists would have to decide that their best vote utile would be to try to tip the UMP primary toward Juppé. I don't see that happening.