Concerns about the fragmentation of the French left may look worrying, but it’s nothing new. The signs have been there for quite some time.
Lionel Jospin was the first who failed to get into the presidential runoff against Jacques Chirac in 2002, edged out by Jean Marie Le Pen because his vote was eaten into by a plethora of small parties across the leftist spectrum.
it was the first major warning that France’s Socialist party could not expect that its candidate would always get to the second round, just because this had been customary so far. Those warnings, however, were never heeded and, twenty years later, they have become an existential, and probably terminal, crisis.
The Socialist party, which held the French presidency just five years ago, took less than 2% of the vote in the first round of the presidential polls and now faces oblivion. They have been clearly replaced by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise, which offers a more populist brand of socialism.
Despite their apparent irrelevance, at least statistically, it is vital that what remains of the Socialists, as well as of the Communist party, and Yannick Jadot’s Greens, swallow their pride and unite with Mélenchon ahead of June’s legislative polls if they want do achieve something meaningful.
There are clearly defined blocks of the centre and nationalist right. On the right, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour account for around 30% of the vote, which, combined with some of the Republican vote, should give them a significant presence in the French Assembly for the first time.
The parties of Le Pen and Mélenchon, who have just won 45% of the vote between them, currently account for a mere 23 of the 577 National Assembly seats, compared to 130 held by the Socialists and Republicans, who took a measly 6.5% in the first presidential round, combined. It is inevitable that we are going to see a major shake up in the National Assembly.
With no obvious successor to Macron in five years’ time – En Marche lacks firm ideological roots and has always been, in part at least, Macron’s personal political vehicle – the formation of the next National Assembly, and the government, is particularly important, for France and the EU alike.
On the left, Mélenchon has made no secret of his hope of becoming prime minister. Aside from massively increasing its own parliamentary representation, a cohesive left block will keep out the forces of Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour in dozens of seats, which is – probably – what France and the EU want.
But while the raw numbers are there, an alliance is easier than it sounds.
Leftists tend to dislike the ideological rivals on their own side of the spectrum more than those on the right.
Francois Hollande, whose incompetent presidency did more than most to make the Socialist party irrelevant, now says an alliance with Mélenchon must be opposed because it would result in his former party ceasing to exist.
In truth, that horse has probably already bolted so there is no point in fussing about the barn door. The question is whether pragmatism will prevail over personal vanity.