An Opposition Emerges?
With the news that Stéphane Le Foll, le dernier vieux grognard du Hollandisme, has withdrawn from the contest to lead the Socialist Party out of the wilderness, it is now certain that Olivier Faure will become the new leader of the PS. Does it matter? The PS is generally described these days as moribund if not already dead. I have described it that way myself on this blog. So does it matter who leads the funeral cortège?
Perhaps. Because the election of a new party leader will coincide with the first stages of organized labor opposition to Macron’s proposed reform of the SNCF. The unions have agreed on a new tactic: a series of rolling strikes designed to disrupt railway traffic 2 days of every 5, thus causing maximum perturbation with minimum lost work hours. This could prove to be a more effective tactic than the short-duration strikes of past years or the uncoordinated wildcat walkouts by militant dissident factions.
Macron has surprised everyone to date by pushing through significant reforms without arousing much organized opposition. He has of course been abetted by the complete disarray of all opposition parties. This may be about to change. Although Wauquiez seems intent on shooting himself repeatedly in the foot at LR, and Marine Le Pen remains distracted by the need to remake her party yet again, this time to distract not from her father’s dérapages but from her own failure as a candidate, the election of a new PS leader could in the context of rising opposition to Macron, not only from the cheminots but also from elders upset by CSG increases, could mark a turning point. But will Olivier Faure be the man to exploit it.
That remains seriously in doubt. Faure is a party apparatchik in the image of François Hollande, whom he served for a time as deputy. In a televised debate among the contenders for the leadership he failed to impress. As party leader he will either develop the TV persona he singularly lacked in the debate or be doomed to failure. He won the leadership by assiduously cultivating the party federations, visiting their local headquarters and courting local leaders. But getting on well with the last bureaucrats of a dwindling party will not do. He must find a way to create the image of a revived opposition at the grass roots. This will require a mastery of the media comparable to Macron’s (whose image-building, not to say image-manipulation, has lately been much criticized without diminishing its effectiveness). Faure’s gifts are wholly untested. And he is unknown to the public, at the head of a party that has lost all of its well-known personalities.
And then there is Mélenchon, who has consoled himself for his failure to make the second round of the presidential election by relishing his crushing of the Socialists. His immediate goal will therefore be to cut Faure’s legs out from under him. Meanwhile, Benoît Hamon has linked his Génération-s movement to Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM (Democracy in Europe Movement). Even together they remain inaudible. Such is the state of the opposition today. And the pity is, Macron needs a opposition. It might remind him of the need to curb his arrogance, which is his greatest liability.