It is less than 24 hours since François Hollande won the presidential election and I can see the clouds gathering already.
After a safe campaign, the Right in government for ten years, and a victory in the debate against the least popular president in history, we are left with just 51.8% to show for it.
Those who said the campaign could not be lost have been proven wrong. It would be a foolish act of both naivety and wishful thinking to suggest that massive Labour gains in local elections and a Socialist victory in France signal a revival of the Left in Europe. (I don’t even need to open the Guardian to know it is saying exactly that!)
That all sounds very pessimistic, but just as I said that it was important to remember that ‘no sitting president ever lost the first round’, we must also remember that the Parti Socialiste has never won two consecutive national elections. Mitterrand was re-elected in 1988, but that was in between the cohabitations of 1986-1988 and 1993-1995.
This brings me to the legislative elections in a month’s time. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Hollande’s victory will sufficiently mobilise left-wing voters to deliver a confident parliamentary majority. That is usually the pattern, even the tradition, of the 5th Republic, but it is difficult to see what is usual or unusual about the political climate at this time.
On the formation of the government, I said before the first round that I believe Hollande will choose the either Socialist Parliamentary Group Leader, Jean-Marc Ayrault or Martine Aubry as prime minister, with Moscovici becoming Secretary General of the Elysée.
Polls have already circulated over whether Hollande should invite the Greens, the Front de Gauche (the Reds) or the centrists into the government. Deals have been done in the legislatives to hand safe seats to the Greens, and given the fact that Eva Joly won around 2% in Round 1 it might have seemed unnecessary.
A PS-Green deal should work well for both parties. Hollande will need a strong Green Group in the Assemblée so that the PS does not seem too dominant. For the first time ever, the PS will control the Presidency, the Sénat, possibly the Assemblée, 21 or 22 regions, most départements and plenty of mayors. Hollande will be glad to have the Greens as human shields and the Greens will be happy to be able to weigh in on the national debate more seriously. Contrast this with the fact that, if Hollande were to work with the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Melenchon would constantly be outbidding Hollande for more spending and tax rises in a way that the Greens could not.
With a score of 51.8%, and a turnout of 80%, I cannot see where any new left-wing votes will come from. It is worth remembering that 7% voted blank yesterday. Whether that was a vote for ‘non of the above’ or an indication of Marine Le Pen’s power over the far right remains to be seen, but there are two million blank voters out there who are lurking quietly in the wings.
Now that Sarkozy has supposedly quit politics (to work on his son’s career), there is a power vacuum in the UMP. Jean François Copé is set to lead and has been positioning himself accordingly for months. Meanwhile, François Fillion remains popular within the party. Recently, I noted that Copé has proposed to reinstate official courants (i.e. factions), meaning that the UMP is beginning to look remarkably similar to the grotesque chaos of the Parti Socialiste after Jospin in 2002.
Sarkozy’s greatest failure, more long lasting than all the other failures, is the revival of the Front National. This is good for the Left and simultaneously bad for the Republic.
It is good for the Left because Marine Le Pen has given instructions that, should FN candidates qualify for the second round in a parliamentary constituency, they are to stay in the race against the PS and the UMP candidate. The FN will thus split the right wing vote and let the PS slip in. Hollande’s majority will come from tricking the system rather than new voters, hence why the PS-Green alliance will be successful.
It is bad for the Republic because it has made the UMP move to the Right and therefore the border between the UMP and the FN more porous. For a short term and unstable political gain, Sarkozy has alienated or killed off the last of the Gaullist Republicans. That is why former President Chirac and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin returned for their final revenge against Sarkozy. If the UMP does suffer heavy losses in the legislatives, the hard-right heirs to Sarkozy will do what would have been unthinkable for Chirac and form an alliance with the FN. It will be secretive at first, then informal, and then could permanently restructure the right. That is to be lamented.
In conclusion, though there are still mountains to climb and clouds on the horizon there are still reasons to be cheerful. The Republic has won its second Socialist President, and that can only be good for democracy.