'Absolutely Fabius' back from the wilderness as the winner

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The Independent Online

One man above all was responsible for France's lurch towards a "no" vote. One man, above all, stood to scoop the political jackpot from French rejection.

One man above all was responsible for France's lurch towards a "no" vote. One man, above all, stood to scoop the political jackpot from French rejection.

Laurent Fabius, the former Socialist prime minister, once claimed to have been a Blairist before Blair. He was the man who, as the youngest French prime minister in 1984-6, pushed the Parti Socialiste towards grudging accommodation with economic realism, reformist social democracy and open markets.

M. Fabius, 59, now the deputy leader of the Parti Socialiste, has the good looks of an Italian crooner, with flat-topped, balding head and Roman nose. He used to be a classical product of the French ruling elite, a man capable of splitting nuances into three, and then re-dividing each splinter.

In the past year, after a spell in the wilderness, he has been reborn as "Absolutely Fabius", a man of socialist convictions and uncompromising distaste for the free-market language of the proposed constitution.

His opponents, on both centre-left and centre-right, accuse him of becoming, in effect, a Jacques Chirac of the left. They say he has stood all his previous actions and attitudes on their head in an attempt to rescue a becalmed political career.

The "no" vote will help M. Fabius to leap-frog his centrist, managerial rivals, including the Socialist leader, François Hollande, and gain pole position for the left-wing "nomination" for the presidency in 2007.

By rejecting party policy and arguing "no", M. Fabius has provided the bridge of respectablity by which hard and anti-globalist left arguments against the constitution have invaded a large part of the supposedly pro-European, French centre-left.

By allowing hard leftist arguments to become respectable in the Socialist Party once again, M. Fabius has gained short-term advantage but created a medium-term monster. If he does emerge as the main left candidate in 2007, how will he square the expectations of the crude anti-capitalism of the left and the free market principles of the EU - which will still exist, constitution or no constitution?

 

By John Lichfield

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