France’s Socialist Party in throes of legislative election disaster

The party of Mitterrand and Jaurès is set to lose 90% of its nearly 300 seats

Socialists’ downfall: Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the party’s secretary general, was among the electoral losers. Photograph: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty

Socialists’ downfall: Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the party’s secretary general, was among the electoral losers. Photograph: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty

 

“The Berezina of the Socialist Party” was the term widely used to describe the defeat of the former ruling party in Sunday’s French legislative elections. The Battle of Berezina, which marked Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812, is a French synonym for disaster.

“The PS is very clearly dead,” the former parliamentary deputy Jean-Marie Le Guen said when it became apparent that the Parti Socialiste’s nearly 300 seats in the National Assembly would be slashed to at best 30 after the second round, next Sunday.

Two individual defeats symbolised the party’s downfall. Its failed presidential candidate Benoît Hamon was eliminated by candidates from President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche and the conservative Les Républicains.

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the Socialists’ secretary general, who had been the deputy for the 19th district of Paris for 20 years, lost to Mounir Mahjoubi, the youngest member of Macron’s government, and a candidate for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left party, La France Insoumise, or France Unbowed.

“Camba” rose in the party as a henchman for the now disgraced politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He had threatened to expel members who flirted with La République en Marche.

Sunday will be Macron’s grand slam, his fourth victory in a row, following on from the two rounds of the presidential election

That party looks set to win three-quarters of the seats next Sunday. It will be Macron’s grand slam, his fourth victory in a row, following on from the two rounds of the presidential election.

When conceding defeat on Sunday night Cambadélis said that Macron won the presidency “only because of rejection of the extreme right” and warned that it would be unhealthy for him to enjoy a monopoly over power.

Laurent Joffrin, the director of Libération newspaper, said France’s old political structure, including the Parti Socialiste and to a lesser extent Les Républicains, “collapsed like the framework of a worm-eaten building”. He joked that Sunday was the Socialists’ worst defeat since Charlemagne, the Holy Roman emperor. This is, Joffrin added, “less than year zero” for the Parti Socialiste.

Christian Paul, a socialist frondeur, or rebel deputy, who is fighting to preserve his seat from an En Marche challenger next Sunday, said it was “heartbreaking to see dozens and dozens of parliamentarians getting massacred”.

Even in 1993, the year of the Socialists’ worst previous defeat, the party salvaged 57 seats. This time it may not muster the 15  required to form a parliamentary group

Even in 1993, the year of the Socialists’ worst previous defeat, after 12 years of rule by François Mitterrand, the party salvaged 57 seats. This time it may not muster the 15 seats required to form a parliamentary group.

Party financing is based on the results of legislative elections. With each deputy in the National Assembly bringing in €37,000, the Parti Socialiste received nearly €11 million a year in state financing. It will probably have to sell the party’s grand headquarters, on Rue de Solférino, a stone’s throw from the assembly.

“The party is in danger of extinction,” Gilles Finchelstein, the director of the socialist think tank Fondation Jean-Jaurès, told Le Figaro. “It had a leader, François Mitterrand; an organisation; a strategy, the union of the left; an ideology, rupture with capitalism. None of that exists any more.”

French Socialists were for decades torn between Tony Blair or Gerhard Schröder-like “third way” social democracy and the Marxist tradition. The frondeurs accused Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, of abandoning the “true left”. Hollande loyalists blamed the frondeurs for opening an opposition front within the party.

Three Parti Socialiste candidates survived only because Macron’s party mercifully desisted from putting candidates up against them

Frondeurs and Hollandais alike were swept away by the En Marche wave on Sunday, including 12 of Hollande’s former cabinet ministers. Three Parti Socialiste candidates survived only because Macron’s party mercifully desisted from putting candidates up against them: the former prime minister Manuel Valls, the former health minister Marisol Touraine and the former agriculture minister and government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll.

Valls had announced during his campaign that he was leaving the Parti Socialiste. When La République en Marche refused to endorse him Valls nonetheless proclaimed his support for Macron. Touraine removed the Socialist symbol of a fist holding a red rose from her posters.  

While the Parti Socialiste wallowed in its ideological debate it was overtaken by the country’s inability to finance the welfare state and by the rise of nationalist populism, in the form of the extreme right-wing Front National and France Unbowed.

The blame game continues. François Lamy, a former cabinet minister and protege of the former Parti Socialiste leader Martine Aubry, who came in fifth in a district in northern France, tweeted sarcastically: “On this Berezina evening for the left, a big thank you to François Hollande and Manuel Valls. ”

“This Berezina” struck down the next generation of Socialist leaders. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the former education minister, is likely to lose to an En Marche candidate in the Rhône region. Matthias Fekl, Christophe Sirugue and Aurélie Filippetti, all younger, once promising Socialists, were defeated.

Numerous Socialist old-timers, known as “elephants”, were also cut down, including Patrick Mennucci, Jean Glavany, Daniel Vaillant and Élisabeth Guigou.

The once-proud party of Jaurès and Mitterrand has lost its historic bastions. The Parti Socialiste has been wiped off the map in all 21 constituencies in northern France, Bouches-du-Rhône, Haute-Garonne and Seine-Saint-Denis.

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