Fabius sees opportunity in post-poll Socialist disarray

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The French left has claimed victory in Sunday's referendum, boasting that the French "no" would begin a socialist revolution across Europe.

Or rather, part of the French left claimed victory.

The entire moderate, reformist leadership of the Socialist and Green parties - including almost all former left-wing cabinet ministers and presidential hopefuls - were plunged into anger and despair.

What had seemed a favourable run-in to the presidential election in 2007 has turned into a nightmare. With the knives out in the Parti Socialiste, its leader François Hollande, who campaigned for a "yes" result, refused to cede his place to Laurent Fabius, who led the party's "no" campaign.

The vote has, on the surface, achieved the impossible and united many of the mutually hating tribes of the left, from Trotskyists and communists to greens, behind the "no" banner.

The former Socialist treasurer, Henri Emmanuelli - a campaigner for the "non" - said on Sunday that the result was the beginning of a "socialist Europe".

The great loser on the left is M. Hollande, who saw 59 per cent of his voters desert the party line and vote against the constitution. Anti-EU Socialists are calling for his resignation.

He and other pro-EU leftists have seen the party's base desert them.

The great winner was the former prime minister M. Fabius, who deserted his pro-European principles to argue for a "no". He hopes to emerge as the only politician capable of uniting the left in 2007. There are calls among the pro-EU Socialist hierarchy for M. Fabius to be disciplined and even suspended.

Anti-treaty Socialists hope to use the spring-board of the "no" vote to call into question the reformist, social-democratic direction taken by the Socialists since 1983. But even they have doubts about the real intentions of M. Fabius.

Would he, as President Fabius, really attempt to deliver a socialist paradise? Or is he just another careerist social democrat in disguise?