John Lichfield: Female mud-wrestling, French style

Relations on the left are so venomous that schism seems inevitable

Share
Related Topics

The French Left has devised a way to distract media attention away from President Nicolas Sarkozy – female mud-wrestling.

In the red corner, we have Martine Aubry, the Lille bruiser, who "won" the party's leadership contest by 0.05 per cent of the vote. In the white corner, we have Ségolène Royal, the Poitou hellcat, who accuses her opponent's camp of "cheating" and "stealing" victory.

No contest between the Left and Right has been fought with more invective and more dirty tricks than this riveting contest between the Centre-Left and the Centre-Left. The poisonous hatred between the two camps was apparent long before the vote of Socialist party members on Friday night split almost exactly 50-50.

The problem is not the narrowness of Friday's vote, nor the evidence of voting irregularities. Such practises have long plagued France's alternative "party of government". (As one party official explained: "In the North, there are genuine members with fake cards. In the South, there are genuine cards held by fake members.") The real problem is that personal relations between the camps have grown so venomous that a de facto schism seems inevitable. A formal split into two parties of the centre-left is unlikely in the short term. It is no longer inconceivable.

That there were irregularities in Friday's vote is certain. The nearly 80 per cent landslide for Mme Aubry in her own fiefdom around Lille was suspicious. So were some of the "block votes" for Mme Royal in the south and in the overseas departements. Only 42 out of 134,784 votes separate the two women. A Parti Socialiste (PS) task force will sift through multiple claims of errors and fraud today before the national committee meets on Tuesday night to decide whether to ratify the result.

The argument between Mme Aubry, 58, and Mme Royal, 55, is not truly ideological. Both come from the moderate wing of the party. They are divided, partly, by their visions of the future of the PS itself. Mme Royal wants to attract a younger, mass membership. She wants – as she said – a "Facebook political party", which the many, left-leaning young people in France could easily join and identify with. Her enemies say that she wants to create a personal fan club.

Mme Aubry, although she also speaks of a "new" party, is perfectly comfortable with a Parti Socialiste whose "masses" consist mostly of teachers and civil servants. She represents the social-democratic, managerial impulses of an ageing party leadership which does not want to lose its power.

Beyond all that, there is the personal contempt of Mme Aubry for Mme Royal (whom she sees as a bossy airhead with right-wing social instincts). And there is the deep personal contempt of Mme Royal for Mme Aubry (whom she sees as a sharp-tongued, and worse, badly-dressed dinosaur).

Even an undisputed First Secretary of the party would not have been guaranteed the centre-left presidential "nomination" in 2012. It is possible, despite her denials at the weekend, that Mme Royal will be tempted to play the martyr-messiah and create her own party. Either way, the real winners are likely to be a) President Sarkozy and b) Olivier Besancenot, the oily but plausible Trotskyist postman whose attempts to create a broad "anti-capitalist party" are gathering strength.

It used to be said that France had the "stupidest Right in the world". In that tradition, at least, France has moved decisively to the Left.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice