Royal Moves Left

Ségolène Royal, who has been slipping in the polls in the last month, has just given a defining policy speech to revitalize her campaign. Her basic premise is that in the last three months she listened to constituents and developed her ideas, and is now going to campaign on them.

[Link] In Ms Royal’s battle to become the first woman president of France, she has chosen to paint herself as the candidate who will defend France’s generous social model against the threats of globalisation and economic liberals, notably Nicolas Sarkozy, her centre-right rival for the presidency.

Young people are at the heart of her programme. They would be given a €10,000 interest-free loan to start their own companies. The state would create 500,000 subsidised jobs for young people. First-time house buyers would get interest-free loans for their mortgage deposit.

The state would intervene to reduce “precarity” in society. Bank charges would be regulated. Companies would be given fiscal incentives to employ people on full-time contracts. Businesses moving production overseas or laying off workers when already profitable would be penalised.

Advertising income for commercial media would be taxed to fund public service broadcasting. On the 35-hour working week, Ms Royal promised to “consolidate this right and reduce the negative effects for workers and employees”. The minimum wage would rise to €1,500.

For sure, this move left is somewhat of a flip-flop. Royal initially campaigned as a fairly neo-liberal reformer who would increase the workweek to 40 hours. Still, it’s good that she found a way to combine a very reformist focus on the future with traditional left-wing politics.

More importantly, if this policy speech rescues her in the polls, which I think it will, it will be a prime example of how the left can become more electable by sticking to its guns. When Sarkozy touts abusing immigrants and slashing welfare, the proper response isn’t to hide in a dark corner but to pledge amnesty to illegal immigrants and increases in social insurance.

At first glance, the proposals outlined in the article range from moderately good to superb. The one that stands out the most is the proposal to write economic growth as an objective of the European Central Bank; right now its sole objective is price stability, which encourages a monetary policy that promotes recession and unemployment.

The minimum wage increase means something different in France from in the US, due to glaringly different levels. France’s current minimum wage is €1,250 per month, which, at 35 hours a week, translates to €8.22/hour. Relative to GDP, it’s more twice as high as what the US minimum wage will be if Bush signs the minimum wage increase bill. In particular, the upward pressure it exercises on wages extends well into the lower middle class.

The turbulence around her campaign, aggravated by divisions within her own party, has raised growing questions over whether the socialist candidate is too inexperienced and unpredictable to become president.

Even Alain Duhamel, one of France’s most reputable political writers, had such trouble taking her seriously that he omitted her from his book on 15 presidential pretenders last year.

Despite the recurrent attempts to cast her as a lightweight who doesn’t have the right background and genitals for the job, she managed to poll ahead of Sarkozy for a while in early January. Yes, she flip-flops and triangulates. So did Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Unlike them, Royal is now specific and detailed on policy, even more so than Newt Gingrich was in 1994.

It’s of course entirely possible that she’ll pull a Clinton and break her promises. But with a 100-point plan to measure her against, it won’t be especially difficult to tell whether she indeed lied. In addition, if she wins, it will be because of this plan, which will make it even more likely she’ll try to enact a substantial portion of it.

12 Responses to Royal Moves Left

  1. muppt says:

    she would be totally bangable if she is younger.

  2. Matthias says:

    muppt, please find another bridge to haunt.

  3. Ruchira Paul says:

    I have also read that Royal’s personal wealth (hers and her partner’s) is also now a factor in her election chances. Too wealthy to be a sincere socialist?

    I have often wondered about this issue – whether a person’s own wealth can or should interefere or in any way negate a populist message. There are very few Luiz Lulas and Evo Morales’ on the world political stage. By the same token, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer (and in the past, the Roosevelts) and a very large number of US law makers would be disqualified from speaking for the poor and the middle class. The US Senate after all, resembles a millionaire’s club. And where does that leave John Edwards and his two Americas?

  4. Alon Levy says:

    While I think Edwards isn’t especially sincere about his Two Americas narrative, I don’t think it’s out of personal wealth. Edwards is entirely self-made, as he keeps telling people, and probably knows enough about the American class system to know that people with his upward mobility are the exception rather than the rule. Rather, it’s his record of dishonesty. If Feingold used whatever wealth he had to build a big mansion, I’d still think of him as a real liberal; if Edwards donated his millions to his campaign, I’d still think of him as an untrustworthy opportunist.

    The “s/he’s too rich to speak for the poor” is yet another way of excluding any opposing views a priori. Leftists who are at least middle class are hypocrties who can’t possibly understand the lower classes; leftists who are lower or working class are told, “If you’re so smart, how come you ain’t rich?”.

  5. SLC says:

    1. The French election will turn on whether the Muslims riot again. If they do, Sarkozy will win in a landslide as the tough law and order man. If they don’t, the election will be fairly close.

    2. Coming from a lower income background and making it doesn’t necessarily make such an individual fail to forget his origins. Case in point, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an uncle tom who didn’t get his brown lips from sucking doornobs.

  6. Ruchira Paul says:


    I agree with you. Personal wealth is not necessarily the indicator / contra-indicator of one’s intentions. To dismiss someone as “too rich” to speak for the dispossessed, is foolish. Eleanor Roosevelt was a shining case in point. Sometimes wealth gives one the power and the influence to bring about a paradigm shift which someone lower in the social hierarchy may not effectively be able to do. This is more true for stable, prosperous societies than those in turmoil, where shrewdness of vision counts for more than personal wealth. Social changes through history have for long been brought about by the elite as well as through public uprisings. The Indian freedom movement was fueled largely by the passions of the educated elite. The masses followed.

  7. SLC says:

    Article on Ms. Royal in todays Washington Post. Sounds like a desperation move.

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