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The French left faces the presidential election while the right and the far right “do all the racing”

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Six months before the French presidential elections in April 2022, the three main left-wing candidates are sagging in the polls as they struggle to gain ground outside the big cities amid a right turn of the French electorate.

One of the most striking expressions of the French language is The detail that kills, meaning “the detail that kills” – the devastating little detail that says it all. A perfect example can be found in a Le Monde 2019 series on the vertiginous decline of France Socialist Party (PS). Acute financial difficulties had forced the once august vehicle of the French left to sell its magnificent headquarters in central Paris and move to the suburbs. When Le Monde journalists drove to the new headquarters, it was so obscure that their Uber driver’s GPS couldn’t find it. They eventually found the party headquarters “at the bottom” of a “small, anonymous yard that turned out to be a business parking lot.”

Six months away from the French presidential elections in 2022, the Socialist Partythe fortunes of has not improved. PS candidate Anne Hidalgo is only 5% of voting intentions, according to the aggregate of Politico polls – even less than the 6% that Benoît Hamon of the PS obtained in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections.

The other left-wing candidates of the mayor of Paris Hidalgo are not doing much better. Leftmost France rebellious The Jean-Luc Mélenchon felt is at 10 percent – a far cry from the nearly 20 percent he reached in the 2017 vote. Yannick Jadot of the EELV Green is at 7%. Never has the French left voted so badly at this stage of the electoral cycle.

“The Parisian image travels badly”

The mayor of Paris chose a symbolic location for the launch of her campaign last month, opting for the Norman capital Rouen, where the Seine flows from Paris – suggesting she was building on seven years as the head of the capital all by reaching out to provincial France.

But Hidalgo’s still low polls show that his appeal has not traveled downstream from his Parisian stronghold. And even there, Hidalgo divided public opinion.

Roads have been dug to make way for cycle paths through the French capital; cars were banned on large sections of the motorway next to the Seine. Hidalgo now wants to make the city center completely pedestrian.

His green approach appealed to many Parisians – especially because the scorching summer of 2019, when the city’s thermometers hit a record 42.6 degrees, brought out the terrifying and galvanizing reality of climate change.

But there is doubt as to the effectiveness of his policy: the number of days Paris experienced increased ozone levels – a tell-tale sign of poor air quality – tripled in the first four. years of mandate of Hidalgo.

Hidalgo has also been accused of failing to accomplish the most basic environmental task – keeping the city clean. The hashtag #saccageparis has gone viral in recent months as Parisians flooded the social network with photos of garbage piled up in the streets and floating in Paris’s usually idyllic river and canal.

In addition, its transport policy makes it the black beast many motorists – a risky group to be thwarted in France, as the Macron government was notoriously shaken by the yellow vests protests that erupted following its 2018 oil price hike.

“Many in Paris – even on the left – think she has gone too far in her war on cars,” TBEN political commentator Angela Diffley said. “And I don’t think it’s going well in the rest of France, especially after what we saw in the yellow vests crisis when it seemed like politicians didn’t understand how low income voters in the suburban and rural areas really depend on the car. . ”

“Hidalgo has three fundamental weaknesses that it has not been able to overcome”, summarizes Jim Shields, professor of French politics at the University of Warwick: “A Parisian image that does not travel well in the provinces; an approach to Parisian governance which has deeply divided, particularly on environmental initiatives; and, most damaging, the inability to offer a coherent and compelling political platform. “

“Class contempt”

The Greens have a similar problem gaining ground outside metropolitan areas. EELV won several major cities in the local elections in June 2020, although they had poor results outside the major cities.

“Despite the illusion created by a green wave in some cities during the recent European and municipal elections, France beyond the ring roads had never turned green,” Shields said.

A few months after this wave of local elections, the mayors of EELV made a series of unpopular statements, including the mayor of Bordeaux saying he disapproved of “dead trees”, that is to say Christmas trees. and the mayor of Lyon criticizing the Tour de France, the favorite sporting event of the French, as “polluted”. Jadot said at the time that the commentary on the Tour de France demonstrated “unbearable class contempt.”

“Jadot having to revisit this comment suggested he recognizes that the Greens may seem out of touch with ordinary people,” Diffley said. “Not just in France but all over the world there is a green policy problem that seems out of touch with the lives of working class people.”

The French left seems to have “abandoned the most disadvantaged social classes,” wrote Martial Foucault, director of the Parisian think-tank CEVIPOF, in Le Monde last week – commenting on an Ipsos poll revealing that Jadot and Hidalgo attract much less support among the working class than among the ruling classes.

Mélenchon is the only leftist candidate with significant appeal to the French working class.

But the veteran far-left candidate has crossed the line of conspiracy brandon in recent years – most recently declaring in June that “in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, we will have a serious incident or murder,” orchestrated to manipulate Readership. The French presidential elections are already “written in advance,” Mélenchon continued – suggesting that Macron is the creation of a nebula elite cabal: “In every country in the world, they invented someone like him, who comes out of nowhere and is being pushed forward by the oligarchy.

This comes after Mélenchon’s notorious proclamation at the end of 2018, when police raided his home and the headquarters of the LFI party as part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities. A video went viral of him shouting at officers, “I’m an MP! […] I a m The Republic!”

Mélenchon now votes at around half of his score in the 2017 presidential election. Although the LFI leader “makes perfect sense in the campaign,” Shields said, “Mélenchon’s taste for conspiracy theories, the rants and aggressive anti-Europeanism fall less well among the French general public than among its party supporters ”- while it“ no longer exerts a fresh and dynamic appeal, this is its third inclination to the Presidency “.

“Tilt to the right”

Thus, even this big beast of the French left is far from the second round between the two most successful candidates of the first round. Emmanuel Macron – the centrist president who has swung to the right with the center of the French electorate – is clearly the favorite in the first round at 24%. The battle for second place is currently being played out between far-right Marine Le Pen, far-right polemicist Éric Zemmour (who has not officially declared himself a candidate) and traditional conservative Xavier Bertrand.

Amid their dismay at this shift to the right among voters, especially on issues like security and immigration, many French leftists have found hope in recent polls suggesting that the standard of living is the highest. great concern of the electorate. In theory, “this should help the left’s economically protective and redistributive agenda,” Shields noted.

But the promises of socialist economic reforms have a habit of turning sour in France. After taking office in 1981, the most emblematic president of the French left, François Mitterrand, nationalized large financial and industrial companies and raised taxes for the rich. But unemployment rose, inflation remained galloping and the franc was devalued three times, which necessitated its famous “turn to austerity” in 1983.

“Voters realize that policies don’t always work,” Diffley said.

Likewise, François Hollande won the 2012 presidential election on a left-wing economic program and almost nothing was implemented. “Hollande had many of the same problems as Mitterrand,” recalled Andrew Smith, professor of French politics at the University of Chichester. “The eurozone crisis gave it very little room for maneuver and there was a feeling that all of these transformation plans could not happen.”

Since Hollande refused to stand again amid humiliating polls, the PS has “no longer been associated with radical economic transformation,” Smith continued. At the same time, he was “unable to mobilize the resources of the political center while his opponents take advantage of the political weather”.

The French left has a “long way to go” before it can deal with the “right-wing leaning of France on terrorism, insecurity, immigration and identity politics, where the right and the far right are the dominant force. race and where the left fights for the clear ”. answers, ”Shields concluded.

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