French socialists fight to survive as presidential test looms
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is struggling to get her candidacy for the French presidency off the ground, faces increasing pressure to show she can galvanize left-wing voters ahead of a decisive vote for the Socialist Party next year .
Just six months away from the elections, she traveled this weekend to Lille, in northern France, for a campaign event where questions about her candidacy were on everyone’s mind.
“Is she really going to represent everyone, and will her opinions matter to us?” “Asked Marion Doublet, a student at the University of Lille, who came to hear on Saturday the plans of Hidalgo at the conference center designed by Rem Koolhaas of the city.
Doublet said she was hesitating between Hidalgo and Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, who currently leads the country’s deeply fragmented left in opinion polls.
Hidalgo is stuck at four to seven percent, in line with the disastrous six percent outcome for Socialists in 2017, when Francois Hollande abandoned his hopes of re-election after the most unpopular presidency in modern history.
“I am here to promote a project of social, ecological and democratic reconquest”, declared Hidalgo in front of a crowd of 1,700 members of the party, pledging to increase the salaries including a doubling of the salaries of the teachers as well as a “tax on climate wealth “to fight against global warming.
The survival of the socialists is at stake – if Hidalgo does not get at least five percent in the first round of the ballot next April, the state will not reimburse his campaign expenses, a prospect the cash-strapped party does. can afford.
It was already forced to sell its historic seat in Paris after the debacle of 2017, and President Olivier Faure has since strived to show that his party, rooted in the legacy of unionism and a state-run economy , has a viable plan for a country grappling with immigration, insecurity, inequality and the fallout from the Covid crisis.
“The problem with Anne Hidalgo is that she has no political identity. She has never been a minister, she does not seem to have political convictions – nobody knows what she thinks,” said declared Rémi Lefebvre, political scientist at the University of Lille.
– Out of reach? –
Most socialist voters migrated to the Greens, the far left of Jean-Luc Melenchon, or the centrist platform of President Emmanuel Macron, said Emeric Brehier, a former socialist lawmaker now a member of the Jean Foundation think tank. -Jaurès.
And many are unlikely to return.
“The party has not worked hard enough to show people its vision of the world of tomorrow and the next 30 years. What does it mean to be a socialist or a social democrat today?” said Bréhier.
“You ask anyone what the top two or three things the party is proposing, including the six percent who will vote for Hidalgo, I don’t know what they might come up with,” he said. declared.
To make matters worse, Hidalgo is widely seen as epitomizing an elitist, urban and wealthy socialist party, with little time for the concerns of everyday French people outside of Paris.
“She is mayor of Paris, and that does not give her a favorable image in a France with a lot of inequalities,” said Lefebvre.
But the Socialists had no other national candidates.
Even Hollande has denounced Hidalgo as a “Lilliputian”, although many say Hollande – who alienated swathes of left-wing voters with corporate tax cuts – has only himself to blame for the disappearance of the government. left.
“Hollande was the party’s gravedigger,” Lefebvre said, ruling out any chance he would do better than Hidalgo, as the former president suggested in interviews with the media.
– On the ropes –
Hidalgo promised Monday that despite her dismal poll numbers, she would continue her campaign to the end, ruling out any alliance with the Greens to propel the French left into the second round.
But unless his candidacy gains traction, the political calculation may prove too costly.
Beyond the risk of no funds for campaign spending, a poor performance could dash Socialist hopes for a legislative election weeks after the presidential election – losing more seats would automatically end the subsidies it receives from the State.
That could make a deal with the Greens inevitable, with Hidalgo giving up his quest in exchange for making sure the Socialists retain key neighborhoods.
“The party won’t recover, or only with great difficulty, from a second campaign where you only get six percent,” Brehier said.
But for now, party supporters say their cause is not yet lost.
“I think that despite everything she still has a chance,” said Nadia Metref, socialist councilor for the Val d’Oise department north of Paris who attended the Hidalgo rally in Lille.
“Today we could use a feminine approach that could bring a bit of humanism back to the country,” she said.
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