Scandals and infighting are stopping the Socialists cashing in on Sarkozy’s huge unpopularityby Tim King / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
Dominique Strauss-Kahn: can he challenge Sarkozy?
In theory, the times could not be more propitious for the Socialist party in France. President Nicolas Sarkozy has virtually dropped off the bottom of the scale in the opinion polls, and although he managed to push his pension reform through parliament, it has been at great cost. “He thinks he’s won,” cries the left, “but come 2012 we’ll show him.” Unfortunately, they don’t specify who will be doing the showing.
The Socialists are the only party big enough to challenge Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire). But its glory years were between 1981 and 1995, when its leader, François Mitterrand, was French president. Mitterrand’s greatest talent was uniting the left and, 14 years after his death, the Socialist party has 20 official courants (coteries or clubs). Each has its own take on dogma, a name either stirring (“Utopia,” “Act for Equality”) or desperate (“Hope for the Left”)—and each is led by a figurehead jostling for power.
For many outside France, the most credible challenger to Sarkozy is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF. But Socialists tend to be ideologists, with a kneejerk hatred of liberal economics. Their 2010 manifesto proposes state-funded finance for industry since “capital has taken precedence over the workers.” It will be hard for them to accept a man so used to handling the world’s private capital. And DSK would have difficulty forming an alliance—essential in the second round of the presidential elections—with the Green party (Europe Ecologie).
The reason goes back to 1999, when Strauss-Kahn resigned as minister of finance over two charges of financial misconduct. Neither case came to court and they should be buried. But Eva Joly, the examining magistrate who conducted the investigation and brought the charges (see Prospect, January 2004), is now presidential candidate for the Greens. The memory of the investigation still pains Strauss-Kahn, and Joly maintains her intransigence against corruption—endemic, she believes, in the highest reaches of society. In September she won the Press Club’s annual award for political humour for her remark: “Yes, I know Strauss-Kahn. I brought charges against him.” No one has dared ask DSK’s opinion of her.
DSK is known as an inveterate womaniser—a reputation which generally helps a French politician win public sympathy, bringing them closer to the average voter, who would like to be seen in the same light. It’s a trait that also…