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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

Experienced Foundation Teacher

£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN TA's apply now! West Midlands

Day In a Page

An oil rig in the North Sea  

The Scottish people deserve the truth about North Sea oil and gas

Colin Tinto
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week