The Reason For The Crisis Of The French Left

Nobody wants to give their arm to twist. The polls indicate that no left-wing candidate has enough votes to reach the second round but, less than a month before the election date, the union still seems a remote option. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France), Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Party), Fabien Roussel (Communist Party) and Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecology The Greens) continue their journey alone. The French political landscape is more fragmented than ever and the polls offer cause for alarm: the sum of the voting intentions of the progressive candidates in the running is 28%, an all-time low for left-wing forces.

Macron increases his advantage for the April elections and the left continues without possibilities

Macron increases his advantage for the April elections and the left continues without possibilities


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The atomization is marked by the fall of the Socialist Party (PS), hegemonic for half a century on that side of the political spectrum. In 2012, 28% of voters voted for François Hollande in the first round, five years later Benoît Hamon received only 6% of the vote. “The Hollande mandate greatly affected the brand image of the PS, which has been associated for voters and militants with a fiasco,” explains Adrien Broche, professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre and political scientist at the Viavoice demoscopic institute.

The fight of egos —both in the Government and in the party—, the rebellion of a part of the socialist parliamentarians and the ideological differences between the social democrats and the left wing of the PS were a burden throughout the entire five-year term Hollande. But, in addition, the last decade has marked the divorce of the party from the electorate that brought it to power in 1981. “The working class had been the main source of votes for the party since the postwar period —shared with the Communist Party— and in the years 80 and 90 managed to add the vote of the middle class. Those two groups were the central electorate of the PS and, to this day, both have moved away from it”.

socialist odyssey

In this context, carrying out the campaign is proving to be an odyssey for the socialist candidate, Anne Hidalgo. And current polls do not offer much reason for her optimism: the latest polls place her slightly above 2% of voting intentions. Despite everything, the mayor of Paris stays the course and continues the campaign with a program focused on ecology, work and institutional reforms. “There is an ideological work that should have started in 2017 and that the PS has not done,” analyzes Broche. “Instead they have abandoned the social question to focus on what they call socioecology, an approach with which they are not capturing the popular classes.”

In fact, ecology is being one of the great absentees from the campaign, overshadowed by issues such as immigration, purchasing power and, in recent weeks, the war in Ukraine. “Ecology cannot be reduced to taxes that fall from the sky on citizens, we had an example of this with the movement of the yellow vests,” explains Lucile Schmid, vice president of the think tank The organic factory and former socialist deputy in the Parisian region.

“It is true that it will be necessary to accept certain ruptures collectively, but that means that the candidates —and the rest of the politicians— must find the means to dialogue with society. The left candidates should talk about new democratic methods: it is not enough to criticize Macron’s vertical power, it is also necessary to propose”.

melenchon stands out

Jean-Luc Mélenchon left the PS a long time ago, in 2008, tired of the candidates close to social democracy dominating the party. Since then he has made his way alone, first under the acronym Left Party (PG), then as France Insumisa (LFI). If Emmanuel Macron was the great beneficiary of the dispersion of the socialist vote in 2012, Mélenchon also managed to attract an important part of the electorate and obtained 19.58% in the first round. “It is true that the traditional vote of the PS was distributed in the last elections between Macron and Mélenchon, although an important part also went to Marine Le Pen, who kept a large sector of the popular electorate”, clarifies Adrien Broche.

For this election date, the LFI candidate is the one who has most clearly accepted the disunity of the left, convinced that in the long term the solidity of his campaign and the withdrawal of other candidates would make him the natural benchmark for progressive voters. At the same time, he has toned down the radical tone of previous campaigns to appeal to a more moderate electorate. And the bet begins to bear fruit. In recent weeks he has been clearly ahead of the other candidates on the left and, with 12% of the voting intentions, he has surpassed Valérie Pécresse for the first time, who is losing ground in the polls. With the far-right vote divided, Mélenchon appeals to the “effective vote” on the left to close the gap that separates him from the second round.

“If Jean-Luc Mélenchon is ahead in the polls today, it is because he has worked on his project for years, he has been able to talk about topics such as popular ecology and because he knows how to stage a certain historical depth”, says Lucile Schmid. “It is important to work on the content of the projects beforehand and not fall so much into personalization. In 1997 Lionel Jospin won the legislative elections at the head of a pluralist left-wing candidacy, they were legislative elections but the leadership was collective. That is the big question facing the left today: collective leadership.”

war in ukraine

The beginning of the war in the Ukraine has opened an angle of attack against the candidate of France Insoumise by his rivals. At a “peace” rally a week ago, Mélenchon reiterated his desire to leave NATO and his preference for national sovereignty over the idea of ​​a European defense. These weeks, all the left-wing candidates claim the legacy of Jean Jaurès, a pacifist politician assassinated on the eve of the First World War, but environmentalists and socialists accuse Mélenchon of his neutrality regarding the invasion and for his ambiguity towards Vladimir Putin.

“These great speeches about peace hide their complacency and their capitulations to Putin,” Yannick Jadot denounced. “Can you imagine Jaurès defending the bombing of civilian populations in Syria?” added the environmentalist candidate, referring to a phrase from Mélenchon, who in 2016 he said Putin had “solved the problem in Syria.”

“Someone like that has no credibility,” said Anne Hidalgo in an interview with the public broadcaster France Inter, “someone who has as an ally Venezuela, Bashar Al-Asad, the dictators of the world.” Attacks that respond to the will of socialists and environmentalists to limit the advancement of the LFI candidate in the face of both the current presidential election and the next electoral appointments. Despite the good results of the ecologists in the last European elections, Jadot is still stuck between 5 and 10% of the votes. In 2012, the Greens decided not to run for office and to support Benoît Hamon (PS), this time hoping that the Socialists would return the favor if the Greens were ahead in the polls.

However, since Hidalgo’s candidacy they reject that possibility. Many experts agree that the multiplication of applicants has complicated the penetration of the message of left-wing politicians. A division that greatly favors the current president. “Although on this occasion Macron’s electorate has clearly become more to the right than in 2017, there will be left-wing voters who will vote for him in the name of Europe, of pragmatism and above all against Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen”, predicts Lucile Schmid.



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