The French Party System: A Vast Wasteland

Arthur Goldhammer
8 June 2018

The French party system, devastated by the Macron tsunami, has not recovered. Only a bleak wasteland remains. If one looks closely, there are signs of life, but just barely. Small creatures are scurrying about in search of nourishment. The big game has been decimated. The few beast of prey that remain are hungry and warily on the prowl.

Laurent Wauquiez, who saw himself as the largest and most dangerous of the surviving carnivores, has not had a meal in months and looks famished and weak. He went hunting on the veldt where the fauna of the ex-Front National, now Rassemblement National, have multiplied in recent years, but the wildebeests were too quick for him.

Valérie Pécresse has been the wilier huntress. Rather than challenge the king of the jungle frontally, she let him exhaust himself chasing the elusive prey. Sticking closer to the central rain forest where there is more meat to be had, the cunning lioness will soon make her bid to take the party back from the white-maned lion. Xavier Bertrand, who quit LR, still stands between her and the presidency, however, as do any number of other potential rivals. She will make her move after Wauquiez succumbs in next year’s European elections.

If the right is a jungle, the left, excluding Mélenchon, is like a petting zoo, where children go to laugh at the antics of the cuddly little creatures. The Socialists elected Olivier Faure their leader but then disappeared, leaving him running to and fro in his cage looking for others to play with.

There are a few varmints in the wilderness searching for members of a hitherto unknown species they have named la gauche républicaineWhat they are really hoping is that they can somehow enlist les déçus du Macronisme, whose numbers are growing daily. Yes, and perhaps they can persuade Nicolas Hulot, the perennial hope of the hapless left, to join them. Good luck with that. When Nicolas finally slams the door on Macron, I doubt he’ll have much taste left for a quixotic run from the dwindling center-left.

And then there is François Hollande, the last of his species, who seems to have been so deranged by thirst that he fancies he might make a comeback in 2022, returning to slay the man who betrayed him, just as Sarkozy dreamed of returning in 2017 to unseat the fox who beat him by pretending that his only enemy was “the world of finance.” So he is doing what he does best, gossiping with journalists, about soccer of all things. Yes! That’s it! He’ll win by convincing the French that what they really want is not a Jupiterian head of state but un président normal! A surefire winner.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, there is Pierre Moscovici, who dreams of returning when his stint on the Commission is up to lead the French Socialists, wherever they may be, to victory in the Europeans. And then on to the presidency, in accordance with the famous motto of William of Orange: “Il n’est pas nécessaire d’espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer.”

Out there somewhere, blogging and orating away, is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who deserves points for persistence. He might even do quite well in the Europeans, especially if Italian-style defiance catches fire without bringing the house down around it. The backlash against Macron has to find an outlet somewhere, and the many who could not stomach the Front National will not find the Rassemblement National any more attractive, while the lure of Macron as the only viable alternative will have suffered from two years’ erosion by power. Still, most will find that Mélenchon has not improved with age.

And LREM? The fissures are multiplying rapidly. If there were any way to organize a left and a right within le parti ni droite ni gauche without getting kneecapped by the invisible but efficient service d’ordre, you might even find LREMmers running against each other.

De Gaulle had no use for parties, but he built a pretty ruthless one anyway. Jupiter has no more use for parties, but his supporting cast may prove less effective than the Gaullist barons at keeping restlessness in check or, better, turning it to advantage. In the meantime, one man is pulling all the strings, so what is there for the puppets to do but gesticulate inaudibly?

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2 Comments

  • Bernard says:

    Pecresse may seize LR in a while as you suggest. Bu that will not change the reality that Macron has deprived the veldt of oxygen up to its extreme edge, which is why Wauquiez is desperately hunting there.
    On the other hand a massive amount of space is in the process of opening up on the left as Macron is neglecting that side. Perhaps Macron will try to reoccupy that space during the second half of his mandate. If not, someone will have to grab it, and it probably will not be any of the individuals that you mention. I am not sure who will, but someone will.

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