France’s feuding Socialist party left facing the end of the road

Ideological splits and "backstabbing" have left France's Socialist party in turmoil to the point where many believe it can no longer be held together. This could be its last election campaign.

France's feuding Socialist party left facing the end of the road

France's governing Socialist party was in tatters Thursday after former prime minister Manuel Valls spurned the party's
official presidential candidate and backed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Valls' endorsement of Macron seals the rift between what the former premier has described as “two irreconcilable lefts” — one still wedded to the class struggle, represented by presidential nominee Benoit Hamon, and another reformist camp led by Valls.

Successive Socialist leaders managed to hold the party together but under President Francois Hollande the tacit non-aggression pact between the two factions broke down, leaving the party in disarray.

Le Parisien newspaper said Valls' repudiation of Hamon — a leftist rebel who quit the government in 2014 over its pro-business policies — was the “nail in the coffin” of the party.

The party of Francois Mitterrand that had acted as a broad church of the left since the 1970s “died yesterday, without panache, corroded by ideological and personal rivalries,” the paper wrote.

Valls' nod comes less than a month before the first round of the election on April 23, with polls showing Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen running neck-and-neck.

(Benoit Hamon. AFP)

Hamon is trailing in fifth place, behind conservative candidate Francois Fillon and Communist-backed radical Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The Socialist candidate had always been expected to struggle after five years of lacklustre rule under the unpopular Hollande.

Valls said his decision to back Macron, who quit the Socialist government last year to form his own movement, En Marche (On the Move) — styled as neither of the left nor right — was “not a matter of the heart but of reason”.

“I think you should not take any risks for the Republic”, Valls said, saying he did the “responsible” thing in opting for the candidate tipped to easily beat Le Pen in May's election run-off.

But for many on the left the endorsement smacked of treachery after Valls pledged to back the winner of the Socialist primary in January, in which he was the runner-up.

A furious Hamon on Wednesday urged voters to reject those who “stabbed (me) in the back”.

A Socialist activist in Marseille lodged a criminal complaint against Valls for “breach of trust”, saying his disavowal of Hamon was “the straw that broke the camel's back.”

“He (Valls) lost” in the primary,” Sylvie Lyons-Noguier told AFP, calling on Valls to quit the party. “It was up to him to bridge the gap” with Hamon.

Hamon and Valls. AFP)

Bedfellows no more

For Henry Rey, a political scientist at Sciences Po university in Paris, there are not two but three lefts in France: a liberal camp represented by Valls and Macron, a social-democratic camp led by Hamon and a radical camp led by Melenchon — who is now the leading presidential contender on the left.

On Wednesday, a bullish Melenchon rebuffed a desperate appeal by Hamon for the two to join forces.

“It's clear that trying to make the various lefts cohabit no longer works, as demonstrated by the disastrous end to Hollande's presidency,” Rey said.

“The lines are being redrawn, which is a precondition for the recomposition of the left,” he said.

The lines are also shifting on the right, with Macron and the nationalist Le Pen draining support from the scandal-hit Fillon.

“It feels as if all the old political forces are dying before our very eyes,” political analyst Pascal Perrineau said.

Thibaut Rioufreyt, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Lyon, warned however against writing the obituary for the Socialist Party (PS).

“The PS has become a federation of local politicians,” he wrote in La Croix newspaper. “It will still exist but its positioning will change.”

By AFP's Eloi Rouyer and Clare Byrne



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Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”