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,
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.