By Antony Tucker
Anyone interested in European politics – and those of us with nothing better to do – will have seen the sad mess that is the left in France. Our sister party, PS, has crashed and burnt; from a majority in 2012 it has gone down to around 7% of the vote and a fifth placed presidential candidate. Other left wing groupings haven’t done any better. So far, our comrades across the Channel have kept making the same mistakes: bad leadership and policies that look back, not forward. Yet, with President Macron determined to slash taxes for the rich and dilute workers’ rights, France needs a strong, progressive opposition.
First, our sister party PS (Parti Socialiste). Blamed for President Hollande’s unpopular term in office, its lack of direction got worse when it chose Benoit Hamon as its candidate for the presidency. His agenda – including a minimum basic income – caught the attention of party members, who selected him instead of better known figures like ex-PM Manuel Valls and former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg. Yet the electorate weren’t convinced: with no name recognition and a set of policy U-turns, he was reduced to defending Hollande’s presidency. Result? A humiliating defeat that might mean the death of our sister party and a political vacuum, just when France needs our principles the most.
Who can fill this gap on the left? The big story of the presidential election was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who nearly passed into the second round and whose “Unsubmissive France” grouping won seats across France. They and their allies in the Communist Party (PCF) want to rally France against Macron’s neoliberal economic reforms. But they suffer from some big drawbacks. Mélenchon is anti-German and his party wants to rip up the EU and NATO, instead of promoting reform; an isolationism that goes against the international outlook that our socialism must protect. At the same time, Mélenchon’s grouping is too focused on ideological battles and not what worries everyday citizens. Their big mission is to end the Fifth Republic and recreate the weak constitution that nearly brought about a military coup in the 1950s. They are looking backwards and inwards, not forwards and outwards.
Meanwhile, Benoit Hamon has split from the failing PS and has started his own movement, M1717. Not yet a formed party, it has so far produced nothing but talk and hasn’t even worked out a proper name for itself. It might be the start of a revival on the centre left, but Hamon isn’t the leader to do it. He’s tainted by failure and is still seen as a cheap version of Hollande, which isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Working with the few remaining Greens from EELV, they might yet bring the left back to life. After all, PS was created in 1969 out of the ruins of several failed parties on the left, and a decade later won the presidency and assembly elections.
Despite the bad results this year, there is still hope for a revival on the left. Macron picked up centre left voters by being not as bad as the other candidates, who were a crook (Fillon), a fantasist (Mélenchon) and a fascist (Le Pen). France is not yet wedded to neoliberalism; people chose Macron because he was new, in a nation sick of unemployment and corruption. There is every chance that as Macron’s novelty fades, the left can return; but only if it chooses better leaders and policies that solve France’s problems as the people themselves see them, instead refighting lost battles and choosing pet projects over pragmatism.