French societal and political observer. Student of Rousseau and Michelet.

Does the left in France have a chance?

and if so, how?

Staying true to the trend of chaos currently sweeping the political world, the lead-up to the presidential election in France has been anything but ordinary. First and foremost, it has been known since last year that the nationalist, Marine Le Pen of le Front National was going to inevitably make it to the second round of France’s two-round voting system this May. While this isn’t unprecedented, as her father and former party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only narrowly beaten by centre-right Jacques Chirac in 2002, it has certainly set the stage for what proves to be an interesting spring in France.

This election has also seen the introduction of the primary system for party presidential candidates. Firstly, perhaps as a sign of things to come, The Greens, or Europe Écologie Les Verts quickly and surprisingly nominated relatively unknown Yannick Jadot to head their bid. Then for the conservative Les Républicains party, voters pushed out party favourites such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé and nominated Thatcherite François Fillon who had consistently been polling in third place. The same thing happened to France’s ruling party, le Parti Socialist when electors chose the utopian ideologue Benoît Hamon, over the two more moderate front runners in their January primary.

This election is also looking to be one that goes against the grain in terms of party politics. Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister and investment banker for Rothschild, ditched his position in the government to run as a centrist independent candidate and start his “En Marche” movement, which is dubbed by him as being neither “Left nor Right” and has entered the political world as something akin to the British Third-Way movement, with liberal social views and hopes for loosening up France’s rigid economy. The final horse in the race, or at least thus far, is far-left agitator Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his movement “La France Insoumise” or roughly “Unsubmissive France” which has illustrated itself as adhering to a sort of classical revolutionary leftist populism.

How far behind is the left?

To anyone who’s kept a keen eye on the elections in France, it’d be a faux pas to place any faith in the French left; whether that be Mélenchon, Hamon, or Jadot. This is founded on solid reasoning given that the current ruling president, François Hollande of le Parti Socialiste, has been bottoming out around 5% approval within the last few months. This shockingly low approval rating for a first world country would come at no surprise to the people who’ve noted France’s sluggish economy and an unemployment rate which won’t seem to get below 10%. His inability to energise France, for whatever reasons that may be, has not only dragged him and his party through the mud but has left many questioning the validity of leftist ideology in France altogether.

Most political analysts in France have verified the claim that though Marine Le Pen will perform strongly in the first round, she’s likely to be beaten out by her opponent. Until recently, it was assumed that François Fillon would be that opponent; however after reports by Le Canard Echainé of embezzling nearly one million euros to finance his wife’s fictitious work as his parliamentary aide, he has fallen to third in the polls. In front of him is the centrist Macron, who has benefited from not only his position as a self-proclaimed outsider but also from the loss of moderate voters from Fillon’s camp. As of this month, polls indicate he trails closely behind Le Pen’s 25% at his 22% and Fillon behind him at 20%. The current frontrunner for the left, Hamon, only has a meagre 15%, with Mélenchon and Jadot even lower, leaving the left in a very vulnerable and tough position heading into the spring.

Le Parti Socialiste, a sinking ship

Whereas there is undoubtedly a great shift to the right in France, there still remains a sizeable front on the left, or at least enough so to push a candidate into the second round. But the thing standing in the way of a leftist victory isn’t necessarily due to any lack of a voter base, despite losing much of their ground to the right, but more so due to the lack of a solidified force for one leftist candidate as the right has done for les Républicain’s candidate François Fillon.

For years now, the premier “left” faction in French politics has been the socialists; however, due to their falling ratings, old members who were once allied under Hollande’s banner have begun to depart over ideological differences. This isn’t out of the blue, though, as the socialists have very clearly been inching closer and closer to the centre given government’s last-ditch attempt to save the economy along with their political future. You can see this culminate in la loi El-Khomeri which sought a loosening of labour laws and saw massive youth protests. This take over by more neoliberal policies has shocked many more leftist adherents and has spurred them to withdraw their support en masse. But the party’s troubles don’t stop there, as just this month with the election of Benoît Hamon, the party did a heel-spin towards the far left. As happened early in the year with the left, this has just as equally pushed out those who were more towards the centre.

This mass exodus and disagreement over the soul of the left is more so a structural problem than a new development. Le Parti Socialiste, founded in the 70s by then president François Mitterrand was created out of the need for a united left front. But ever since its inception the union has been thrust into disarray from different radical and more compromising factions who can’t seem to come to an agreement. This fracture isn’t any more evident than when watching the debates during the primaries. Les Républicains, a party created out of union themselves, showed noticeably more union and coherence amongst themselves than did the socialists, despite their differences. Even now, after the socialists have chosen their candidate, some are jumping ship for the centrist Macron, which leaves the French people to wonder what the union even meant to begin with. Though valiant in its time, le Parti Socialiste is the Titanic on its way to the bottom of the Atlantic. Many members have gotten wind of this and have jumped overboard to assure their political lives don’t get sucked down into the vortex with it.

Yet, despite this painfully obvious fracture, party leadership seems to want to clutch to the status-quo despite what’s happening directly in front of them. The party leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, made this clear when refusing three other outsider candidates from joining the socialist’s primary. This should send a clear message to any socialists still placing their faith in their party that things aren’t going to change by themselves. If not only le Parti Socialiste but the left is going to survive the first round of voting, it is going to need to decide amongst itself the soul of the future of the left in France, rather than ignoring it and letting the party buckle under its own weight.

What does the future look like?

Beyond an uncompromising leadership, there is still hope though for the idea of a revitalised and powerful leftist front this spring. Hamon announced that after winning his primary, he’d like to go into talks with the other leading candidates on the left to form their own governmental coalition to combat the extreme right. Heading Hamon’s call, the Green’s candidate, Yannick Jadot is according to those close to him, nearing a decision to let go of his own presidential dreams to better ensure Hamon’s. Not only Jadot, but Mélenchon has also replied to the call, stating that if there would be any sort of union on the left, it should exist beyond le Parti Socialiste, which he believes no longer share his nor Hamon’s core values.

Whether these talks amount to something is still something that’ll have to be seen. No matter what the outcome, the three main candidates on the left seem to be well aware of the political reality, which proves promising for not only those on the left but for the democratic responsibility towards intellectual diversity in general. Hopefully coming into the first round of the election in May, we’ll see a left which has reinvented itself towards a more hopeful and forward looking future as it will be necessary to protect the French people from being just another domino in the chain of political disasters ravaging the globe.

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