Will Ségolène Royal be the Socialist presidential candidate next year? Not if the rest of her misogynistic party have anything to do with itby Tim King / March 22, 2006 / Leave a comment
“Socialists?” the carpenter thumps the coffin he’s making. “Mitterrand stood for something, but his lackeys! Going on the television to tell us to vote for Europe?” Most of my neighbours vote right, or extreme right. When the Socialist party bigwigs ventured into France profonde a year ago to show grassroots solidarity against the closure of rural services, the grassroots received them with catcalls and snowballs.
But even my carpenter is intrigued by Ségolène Royal: “The wife quite likes her.” Although Mme Royal seems haughty and mondaine, she has built her political career on family matters, and is now rocketing ahead of her rivals—for whom she has even less time than my carpenter—as the best potential president on the left.
The French Parti Socialiste is in a mess. Its leader, François Hollande, is a clever, able politician, but a back-office man with all the charisma of Maximilien Robespierre. Then there are the elephants, the “great men” of the party, who endlessly bicker and continually bore. These include Laurent Fabius, prime minister in the 1980s, a lifetime ago; Jack Lang, a remarkable minister of culture even longer ago; and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once a brilliant economics minister before he was fingered, though acquitted, for corruption. After the 2002 presidential election, when Lionel Jospin was routed, each assumed his turn had come. Still they wait. The party was humiliated again in last year’s referendum, and during November’s riots they could find nothing to say.
So now they huddle together, elephants in a storm, their hatred of each other matched only by their new hatred of Ségolène Royal. But the plot thickens, since Royal is the partner of—and shares four children with—their leader, Hollande, another wannabe president.
In France, party leaders do not automatically become official presidential candidates. Each of the elephants has a chance to be elected at November’s party conference. And then the defeated members can choose to stand independently: anyone who can muster 500 signatures from elected representatives spread over 30 departments can proclaim him or herself candidate, receiving E13.7m campaign expenses. In the 2002 election, 16 candidates obtained the requisite number of signatures. Eight were on the left, which provided the polite justification for the Socialists’ defeat in the first round. This time, they all cry, unity is essential—although, given their egos, factitious. Anyway, any semblance of unity has been destroyed by Royal’s rapidly growing and unforeseen popularity. The elephants…