People-Powered Ségolène

Britain had Thatcher; Germany has Merkel. France may get Marie-Ségolène Royal, who’s just won the Socialist Party’s primary overwhelmingly. While Thatcher and Merkel are both deeply authoritarian conservatives, Royal is a populist who won by connecting to ordinary voters and running a campaign with similar themes of people-power to Howard Dean’s primary run in 2004.

Says the Times,

[Link] Ms Royal’s critics — in her own camp as well as the centre-right opposition — are wondering how she will flesh out the lyrical vision of renaissance that she offered France yesterday. She has yet to give a hint of how she would achieve her pledge to rebuild the protective welfare state and shield France from globalisation while creating the prosperity to pay for it. She has said that she wants to “make the capitalists suffer” but also encourage business.


Quotable quotes: “Being a woman is not enough to be different.” “Democracy is like love. The more you get of it, the bigger it grows.” “People are interested in politics when politics is interested in people”

The Independent describes her more positively and refrains from using the sexist characterizations of Royal’s attire that the Times uses. Explaining how an outsider like her got 61% of the primary vote, it says,

[Link] Her site on the internet – – urged supporters to send in their own ideas, giving them the impression that they were running their own campaign.

What Mme Royal grasped was that, after 23 years of centrist muddle by right and left, France has lost patience with mainstream politics and politicians. Despite her Socialist pedigree, she managed to create an image for herself as a kind of centrist outsider (not unlike the first Bill Clinton campaign in the US in 1992).

Royal’s overall persona is this of a reformer, who integrates the blogosphere into her campaign, and runs explicitly as an outsider. In the US, it’s worked for many people – Clinton, Feingold, Ventura, Schwarzenegger, Wellstone, to some degree McCain – but in France the political culture is far more hierarchical.

Both the Times and the Independent explain how her femaleness was part of the innovatoin. France isn’t like Britain, whose party system just happened to produce a female Prime Ministerial candidate in 1979; its entire idea of gravitas is masculine.

As a nifty extra, her official blog quotes her as saying,

[Link] La question de l’immigration ne peut pas être déconnectée de la question du co-développement. C’est par le droit des familles à vivre dignement dans leur pays d’origine que l’on mettra fin à l’immigration clandestine. Pour cela, il faut réussir le développement des pays pauvres.

[The question of immigration can’t be disconnected from this of development. It’s with the right of families to live in dignities in their countries of origin that we’ll put an end to illegal immigration. Therefore we must succeed developing poor countries.]

I don’t expect any mainstream politician, even a reformist, to go against the grain of France’s political values and explain that the main problem with immigration is that the government doesn’t collect any statistics that would help it crack down on discrimination in hiring and pay. I’d sooner expect an American politician to criticize the US Constitution. But it’s a good start for Royal not to rant about how illegal immigrants are the source of all trouble in France.

4 Responses to People-Powered Ségolène

  1. SLC says:

    1. I must admit that I am not too familiar with Dr. Merkels’ views. However, I would like some examples indicating her alleged authoritarian bent. I would point out the she is rather constrained because the coalition government includes the social democrats and would immediately collapse if its’ support was withdrawn. Since she has a PhD in physics, she can’t be all bad.

    2. Ms. Royal has a number of issues, including having borne 4 children without being married. That probably won’t hurt her too much in France but you never know. On the other hand, her apparent opponent, Sarkozy is from the Rudy Guliani school of hard nosed law and order guys. A repeat of the Muslim disorders of last year in proximaty to the election would certainly help his chances. Of course, he has his own problems, including being the French equivalent of George Macacawitz Allen; however, such individuals have risen to the top in France previously (Edgar Faure and Pierre Mendes-France).

  2. Ségolène, pourquoi je suis maintenant pour – (Part I)

    Pour la mouvance de la gauche radicale, le plébiscite de Ségolène Royal est une tuile. Déjà que la situation n’était pas brillante, elle est devenue très pâlichonne. Face à “DSK” ou Laurent Fabius, Marie-George Buffet, par ex…

  3. Ségolène, pourquoi je suis maintenant pour – (Part II)

    Les attaques invraisemblables, venant des bien-pensants soit-disant de gauche, pleuvent sur Ségolène Royal, au point que Nicolas Sarkozy en fait désormais un point d’appui de son offensive contre elle. La gauche offre des armes au chef de …

  4. Ségolène, pourquoi je suis maintenant pour – (Part III)

    A la lecture de ses discours qui précisent ses propositions, on peut retenir : Elle redonnera la parole aux citoyens et refusera de voir la politique mise sous tutelle par quelques technocrates qui se cooptent. Elle veut accomplir ce qu’elle ap…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: