Archive for the ‘French Politics’ Category
French Presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron visited Britain yesterday.
There was great interest in this trip.
Macron is said set to make it through to the final two-round contest against Le Pen since the Republican candidate Francois Fillon has been enveloped in the “Penelopegate” scandal.
Though few would be certain about the French polls at present, as this one (also yesterday) indicates: SONDAGE. Fillon repasse devant Macron, Mélenchon rattrape Hamon. Emmanuel Macron’s rating how gone down, to between (First Round) 17% – 18,5%, with Fillon at 20%.
The alt- and far-right Express headlines,
Macron blasted for ‘abusing’ British hospitality and ‘making enemies’ during London visit
FRENCH presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has “made many enemies in Britain” by “abusing” Theresa May’s hospitality to slam Brexit on the steps of Downing Street, the leader of a powerful Tory think tank has blasted.
A more sober account appears on the France 24 site,
It is unusual for a British prime minister to host a foreign candidate for elected office, although Downing Street noted that former prime minister Tony Blair had hosted Nicolas Sarkozy months before he became French president in 2007.
“Monsieur Macron was already in London, he asked for a meeting and we were able to accommodate,” May’s spokesman told reporters.
Asked if May would be prepared to meet Le Pen, he said: “There’s a long-standing policy that we don’t engage with the Front National.”
Conservative leader May promised a close post-Brexit relationship with France on security and defence as she met with French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in London on Friday.
The Guardian reported,
Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate for the French presidency, has vowed his campaign will learn from the mistakes of David Cameron’s Brexit and Hillary Clinton’s failed election campaign by being boldly pro-liberal and pro-Europe.
Speaking after a meeting with Theresa May in Downing Street on Tuesday, Macron defended his decision to be unambiguous in his views as he fights a campaign against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, saying: “In the current environment, if you are shy, you are dead.”
He added: “In the current environment, when extremes and anti-globalisation win elections, that is probably the best moment for France to decide to do the opposite.”
Le Monde described his Rally at Central Hall,
Largement composé de jeunes employés dans la finance ou d’entrepreneurs, le public du Central Hall, grandiose salle de congrès de style 1900 surmontée d’un orgue géant, a bu du petit-lait quand l’ancien ministre a fustigé le système fiscal français qui « empêche les gens de réussir trop bien ».
The former Minister addressed an audience, largely made up of young employees in finance or entrepreneurs, at (the Methodist) Central Hall, an enormous conference Chamber in 1900 style complete with a giant Organ. His denunciation of the French tax system, an “obstacle to those who succeed too well”, was music to their ears.
« En France, on stigmatise l’échec et on n’aime pas le succès, a-t-il insisté, alors on va le chercher ailleurs. »
‘In France we vilify failure and we don’t like the successful”, he emphasised, “so people leave the country to try their luck.”
Libération summarised the speech bluntly, “Macron caresse dans le sens du poil les Français de Londres” – he flattered and buttered up the London French.
They noted this, ” Il y a même des Britanniques, dont l’ancien ministre à l’Europe de Tony Blair, le travailliste Denis MacShane, venu «en observateur».
We do hope Denis is keeping well.
Yesterday on British news programmes the visit was top news.
Newsnight followed reports with a discussion as to whether Macron and his political ‘party’ or rally, En Marche! represents a fight-back against ‘populism’ from the liberal centre.
Polly Toynbee’s admiration for Macron has been echoed by a number of pundits, although divisions between pro-EU centre-left and centre-right were quickly apparent in the studio that followed.
As the le Monde report indicates, Macron stands all too clearly for the ‘winners’.
Not everybody is a winner.
Marine Le Pen in Fake Job Scandal as Poll gives 44% of Working Class Voters behind her Presidential Bid.
This story has been rumbling on for the last few weeks, but this is the first proper report in English, from the always-worth looking at France 24 site (the French language version often covers different stories and is also well worth reading).
Bearing in mind that Marine Le Pen heads French polls (and by far and away, is the strongest candidate amongst working class voters at 44% ) – though is unlikely to get from the first round in the Presidential elections to win in the second.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Friday vehemently denied having ever admitted to anti-fraud investigators that she misused EU funds to pay her bodyguard, saying she is the target of outright lies.
“It’s a shameless lie, I have never admitted such a thing to investigators,” the National Front leader told French radio France Bleu Besançon.
The comments come after French investigative news site Mediapart and weekly Marianne on Thursday published extracts of a report by the European anti-fraud body (OLAF) which claimed that Le Pen had admitted to falsely employing at least one of her staff as an EU parliamentary assistant.
According to the extracts of the report, Le Pen had defended the move, claiming the parliament owed her and her party money from unpaid salaries and expenses.
But according to Le Pen, this conversation with investigators never took place.
“I never even saw the sight of them [the investigators],” she said.
The persistent scandal, which erupted when the report was handed to French judges last year, is a needle in the eye for the 48-year-old whose bid for the French presidency had been picking up steam after it was revealed last month that her main rival, conservative presidential nominee François Fillon, paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros by employing her as his assistant in the French parliament – a job the weekly Le Canard Enchainé claims she did not actually do.
Who said what?
European anti-fraud investigators say that Le Pen used European Parliament funds to pay her bodyguard, Thierry Légier, a total of €41,554 between October and December in 2011 by falsely claiming he was an EU parliamentary assistant. In the report, they claim that Le Pen acknowledged that she did not employ Légier in that capacity during those three months.
Le Pen is also accused of having signed off on a similar contract for her France-based assistant Catherine Griset, to whom a total of nearly €298,500 was paid out between December 2010 and February 2016.
In the report, investigators allege that “Le Pen had the European Parliament employ Madame Catherine Griset as a parliamentary assistant accredited in Brussels whereas she has been serving as her personal assistant at her party headquarters in France since December 2010”.
To qualify as an EU parliamentary assistant, the person needs to work in one of the parliament’s three offices – in either Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg – and is required to reside in the vicinity of his or her workplace.
Refuses to repay
The EU parliament has sought to recover the funds – which amount to almost €340,000 in all – claiming the two employees worked as Le Pen’s own staff rather than parliamentary assistants, but Le Pen has so far refused to repay them, denying any wrong-doing.
“In order to reimburse, I’d have had to have received the funds, but my name isn’t François Fillon,” Le Pen was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying earlier this month.
“Moreover, I formally contest this unilateral and illegal decision,” Le Pen told AFP.
Her failure to repay the EU parliament means Le Pen faces a pay cut of some €7,000 a month as punishment.
French investigators have also opened a preliminary inquiry for fraud following the claims made in the OLAF report.
Sovereigntism: a Dead End for the Left.
The Independent reports,
Labour plans regional immigration system to tighten controls outside London
The system would likely require some kind of work or housing permit to be introduced.
Labour is planning a regionalised immigration policy that would allow higher immigration to London but tighter restrictions on moving to other parts of the country.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said on Sunday morning that Brexit presented the opportunity to fine-tune the UK’s border controls and that the plan was under discussion by the party.
Asked whether he thought immigration should be higher or lower across the UK, Mr Watson said: “I don’t think you can say that. I think you can actually say London requires more liberal immigration policies but there are other parts of the country where immigration may be putting pressure on public services like schools and hospitals.
“That’s why I think when we come out of the EU we can have an immigration policy that maybe addresses both those issues.
“These are nascent ideas, we’re not ready to make them robust in a manifesto yet but they’re certainly the debate that is going on in the Labour party right now and in wider circles.”
The approach could help resolve Labour’s dilemma of keeping both its metropolitan support and its support in former industrial areas happy on the issue.
The idea would likely require some kind of work or housing permit system to be introduced as the UK has no internal border controls to stop people settling where they want.
A policy tailor made for electoral gain?
We sincerely hope that this policy, – requiring perhaps a line to be drawn around ‘open city’ London for ‘foreigners’ who wish to work and live in the UK – is not going further than these news stories.
Indications are however that this could well be part of “a national popular politics”.
Like many countries, notably France, Britain is now seeing the development of a “sovereigntist” left that seeks to base politics on the Nation, or ‘national renewal”. In France it is said that this strategy is needed to answer the Front National’s appeal to, frankly, racist roots of national populism and “the” people, wrapped in moralistic politics.
In words that could come straight from this current, Jonathan Rutherford wrote in yesterday’s Labour List (Labour can respond to Brexit by leading a popular politics that completes the shift away from Thatcherism)
The first is to define a British sovereignty and restore control of our borders and law making. The nation state, accountable to its population, and working through treaties, partnerships and alliances, remains the best means of managing globalisation in the interests of its own citizens. Britain needs constitutional and political reform of its union and its governance. The Brexit vote was an English vote and so the renovation of self-government in England should be a priority in a more federal UK. The free movement of labour must end and immigration brought under national democratic control. It is a case made by Tom Kibasi and by Chuka Umunna.
It is hard to find a better definition of sovereigntism than these lines: the position that supreme power should be exercised by nation state, that ‘pooled sovereignty’ – that is the European Union – is a weakening of its force, that
The Labour ‘interest’ is apparently redefined,
‘ Labour must recast itself as a party of national renewal and reconstruct a broad national coalition around a sociologically changed labour interest. It is the only means by which it can take on populism, transcend its own cultural divisions, and regain its credibility as an opposition and a government in waiting. A national popular politics speaks for the labour interest within the culture of the nation. It means a Labour Party that represents the diversity of working people in the country defining their own interest and so their own shared common identity.
Since Rutherfod considers that Brexit is a “democratic moment” those who opposed it are cast into the darkness of the “minority, metropolitan interest”, not the “real” People.
“Those who voted to leave the EU are a moderate majority of mainstream England “who will respond to “national popular politics.”
The words about globalisation and so on should not fool us into thinking this is any way ‘anti-capitalist’. Who are the first targets of this critique? As can be seen, a key part of this version of sovereigntism is the assertion of control of the free movement of labour.
Inside London, freedom of movement, outside, restriction, passes, permits.
Not only would this be unworkable but frankly it is an insult to those who prime responsibility is to defend the cause of labour, the cause of all working people.
Internationalism is not the preserve of ” a tiny revanchist Marxism and the dried-up old bones of the hard left. The vacuum is filled by a small minority” with egalitarian identity politics.”
Once you give priority is given to ‘British’ control, “our” border and “our” law making you have to define who this “our” is.
How exactly this relates to ‘English’ power and the idea – floated and not yet sunk – of ‘federalism’ is left in the air.
A federal’ system would, perhaps, also weaken the Nation’s unifying power generating capacity….And what could be a purer example of ‘identity politics’ than tossing the word England into the political game?
Internationalism, that is not just defending universal rights, an injury to one is an injury to all, is the only practical way of standing up for the labour ‘interest’ when Capital weakens our living conditions, our wages and our ability…..to move freely.
We have common interests beyond the ‘national popular’.
But let that detail pass in the lyrical nationalism that is the hallmark of the sovereigntist left.
Amongst ” free nations and democracies.” Britain has a special place in Rutherford’s heart.
We stand, in fact, at the very point of junction, and here in this Island at the centre of the seaways and perhaps of the airways also, we have the opportunity of joining them all together. If we rise to the occasion in the years that are to come it may be found that once again we hold the key to opening a safe and happy future to humanity, and will gain for ourselves gratitude and fame.
Another is a belief in the special place of the nation, coincidentally the home country of those supporting this vision, in History.
The “special relationship” with the US is a sentimental one. In reality it is transactional and rarely reciprocal. So be it. Britain must use the genuine affection of the American people and find its points of leverage and use them profitably.
The third circle was once empire, then it became the commonwealth, and now Britain must reinvent this sphere of influence as a democratic moral leader, social connector, trader, ideas maker, and culture creator, in order to build relationships with other creative powers who know how to project themselves onto the world stage. It is in this sphere that Britain can play a role contributing to rethinking the global order.
Jonathan Rutherford ‘s national Messianism apart, this is populism, not any form of social democracy or democratic socialism.
On the one side are the ‘real’ people, moral, hard working, whose wishes Rutherford had a talent to divine.
On the other, the “dried up” hard left and identity politics, the “minority, metropolitan interest”.
There are more experienced populists out there who are likely to beat Rutherford at his own game, in the growing nationalist right of the Tory party to begin with.
A pluralist democratic left should not go down the same dead end.
Reuters reports (Sunday),
Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon embraced technology during the launch of his presidential campaign at a rally in Lyon on Sunday, with a 3D hologram of him making his speech appearing at the same time at another rally in Paris.
Mélenchon, wearing a Nehru-style jacket, tried to use the hologram technology give a modern look to his launch, which coincided with that of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon opened his meeting, transmitted by hologram to Paris, with a rousing speech. But it was hard to hide that the selection of the radical green socialist, Benoît Hamon as Socialist Party candidate, has created profound difficulties for the leader of La France insoumise.
After Hamon’s victory the French left is divided. While many welcomed the Socialists’ change in direction, for the majority of Ensemble, an alliance of radical left currents and part of the (nearly defunct Front de gauche), Mélenchon remains central to the left’s prospects in France.
On the Ensemble site Roger Martelli writes of the left’s Presidential candidates, (Gauche : et maintenant ?)
Depuis une quinzaine d’années, il est de tous les combats majeurs visant à redonner au peuple sa souveraineté et à la gauche son dynamisme. Son programme, dans la continuité de celui de 2012, reprend la logique « antilibérale » et démocratique qui s’est déployée après le choc de la présidentielle de 2002.
For over 15 years he has been there in all the principal battles which have aimed to return to the people their soveriegnty and to the left its dynamism. His programme, consistent with the (Presidential election) of 2012 (when Mélenchon stood, backed by the Front de gauch left bloc), takes up again the « anti-liberal » and democratic logic used since the shock of the 2002 Presidential elections.
Au fond, Benoît Hamon incarne la continuité d’un Parti socialiste qui a accompagné les reculs successifs d’un socialisme devenu hégémonique au début des années 1980. Jean-Luc Mélenchon ouvre la voie d’une rupture dont toute la gauche pourrait bénéficier.
At root Benoît Hamon embodies continuity with a Parti Socialiste which has, since it became hegemonic since the start of the 1980s, has been marked by a succession of backward steps. Jean-Luc Mélenchon opens up the prospect of a radical break, from which all the left could benefit.
Martelli’s reference to “popular sovereignty” raises perhaps one of the most serious problems about Mélenchon’s campaign. The leader of La France Insoumise is not only concerned with “une majorité populaire à gauche”. Or a ” dose” of populism into the left, to re-occupy the field of social division, with a campaign that can express a radical protest vote.
Another Adieu au Prolétariat.
Mélenchon’s ambitions extend far and wide as he asserts the need to replace the traditional strategies of the left.
In a series of writings he has talked about L’Ère du peuple in (the grandly titled) “époque de l’Anthropocène.” (the ‘new epoch’ in human political geography). In this perspective the old ‘hierarchy’ of struggles, centred on the primacy of the proletariat as a political subject, has been surpassed.
In a short history which takes him from the people as a ” multitude ” (without cohesion), the people/working class, as a demand-making category, we have come to the age of « networks » (réseaux). And, in France, more specifically, as he puts it himself, “réseau de soutien à ma candidature et à son programme”. (Réseaux et mouvements. 7th of January 2017)
The network launched as La France Insoumise is at the core of the electoral and social strategy. Mélenchon is engaged in an explicit effort to capture (in his terms, form), the People, in opposition to the Oligarchy, financial and globalising. It is not shaped only by economic issues, but the with the wider effects of capitalism in society: marginalisation, social division, the long series of cultural contradictions and demands of the diverse oppressed groups. Above all it aims to “net” the concept of the People, and refound the left as a movement capable of structuring it politically as a force for progressive transformation (details of the programme on their site). Membership of what might be called a permanent “rally” does not require payment, only backing.
Supporters put this project in the same political sphere as Podemos, as a movement that aims to expand the field of democratic mobilisation against the political caste (la casta), more commonly called, in French and in English, the elites.
For this venture, which draws on the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, populism is a political logic. The objective is to unify, to create a radical democratic People, not as (it is asserted) through the forms of exclusion and division, between “us”, on ethnicity or nationality and others.
Citizen-Movement and the Leader.
But, as Pierre Khalfa has observed, the “citizen-movement”, La France Insoumise, charged with this objective, organised in hundreds of “groupes d’appui” (support groups) is not democratic in the sense that political parties are – in principle. (Le peuple et le mouvement, est-ce vraiment si simple?). There are no organised confrontations between different currents of opinion; disagreements only arise over applying the ‘line’ in local conditions. There is, in fact,the worst form of Occupy style ‘consensus politics”, ruling out by fait real dissensus, wedded to the decisions of the Chief. It is “JLM who decides”. Or, as Laclau put it, the, “..the “symbolic unification of a group around an individuality” is inherent to the formation of a ‘people’ (Page 100. On Populist Reason 2005. ) (1)
Critics point to the lack of coherence in the definition of the would-be “people” a vast category with many internal conflicts between social groups. They also state that it is also highly unlikely that the ambition to remould populist resentment, expressed and solidly articulated in the Front National’s nationalist attacks on globalisation and a whole range of groups, from Muslims to migrant workers, has struck deep into French political reality. Detaching the ‘floating signifier’ of the People and putting it to a new use is a hard task. It more probable, and Mélenchon’s comments on Europe, migrant labour and the importance of the French ‘nation’, that it will end up more influenced by nationalism than become an alternative to it. Over everything lingers Pierre Khalfa put it the figure of “l’homme providentiel”, the Man of Destiny. (Le populisme de gauche, un oxymore dangereux).
In these conditions it is little wonder that many of the French left are not just wary of Mélenchon, but actively hostile to his entire project.
It is equally not surprising that elsewhere would-be People’s Leaders, like George Galloway in Britain, have warmed to La France Insoumise.
(1)Le peuple et le « mouvement. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (2.11.16. Blog).
“Il n’y a pas de carte. Il ne peut y avoir des cotisations mais seulement des participations financières à l’action c’est-à-dire des dons ou des versements réguliers pendant la durée de celle-ci. Il n’y a pas d’autre discipline que celle de l’action, c’est-à-dire celle que chacun s’impose dans l’action individuelle ou collective.” In other words, la France Insoumise is devoted to the “action” of getting votes.
Populists High on the Hog.
From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.
In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.
But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.
But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.
It is an illiberal democracy.
Müller predicts that in power,
..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)
This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.
Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)
Populist Calls to Break up the EU.
After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.
This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).
Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).
Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction
Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)
If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)
The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).
What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?
This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.
(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia. More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République