The Republican candidate represents the radicalisation of the mainstream rightby Jim Wolfreys / November 23, 2016 / Leave a comment
Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France during the first world war, once summed up his relationship with his longstanding ally Georges Mandel: “When I fart, he’s the one who stinks.” Former prime minister François Fillon has just turned the maxim on its head. Fillon won the first round of the primary to be the presidential candidate of the centre-right Les Républicains party, eliminating his old boss Nicolas Sarkozy in the process. Fillon, once belittled by Sarkozy as his “employee,” was prime minister for the entire term of the Sarkozy presidency (2007-12). He fronted an agenda that combined neoliberal economic policies with an alarming escalation of racism, in particular Islamophobia. Yet it is Sarkozy who has taken the flak for their record in office, exiting the contest with multiple corruption scandals trailing in his wake.
The result has various implications. Sarkozy’s high octane style of hyper-presidentialism appears to have run its course, a reminder that brash populist authoritarianism can find its capacity to retain support fatally blunted by office. Promising to reward the France that “gets up early,” the Sarkozy presidency instead benefited top earners, while earnings for the poorest fell. Very few countries experienced a greater rise in income inequality than France between 2007 and 2011. Fillon proposes more of the same, a central part of his platform being the jaw-dropping promise to cut half a million public sector jobs. Other measures include extending the statutory retirement age to 65, cutting public spending by €110bn and scrapping the 35-hour week. A veteran of numerous social conflicts, Fillon is prepared for further confrontation with the trade unions.
Alain Madelin, the French politician most associated with a neoliberal outlook, has criticised such measures as a caricature of anti-social liberalism: “Robin Hood in reverse.” Madelin is a supporter of Alain Juppé, whose presence in the second round of the primary is a testament to the durability of political elites in France. Almost as soon as he had become prime minister in the mid-1990s, Juppé’s standing was hit by a wave of strikes and demonstrations that knocked his social security reforms off course. Later…