France: A Game of deckchairs

In France, the year does not begin in January but in September. This is when the schools go back, and when the fratricidal game of French politics begins again in earnest.

The game is more earnest this year, because 2017 will see  the next presidential elections. The two obvious leading contenders (François Hollande and Nicholas Sarkozy) are both about as popular as rabies among the general public, and each of them is being stalked by at least half a dozen impatient rivals, dagger at the ready.

For several months now, newspapers and magazines have been producing lists of who has so far declared themselves a candidate for 2017. There seem to be about 20 potential candidates, some directly challenging for the role of  standard-bearer of the Left or Right, others with the firm intention of running whatever happens. French elections are always a bit of a shambles, because of the history of personal jealousy and animosity in all of the major political formations. French politics is divided not so much into parties as into  “clans”,  where individuals gather supporters around themselves from an early stage in their career, and try to expand their networks of influence as the years pass, and reward their supporters. Particularly on the Right, this produces a situation where politicians  hate their ostensible political allies more than their apparent ideological enemies.

Of course this assumes that there are ideological differences between the candidates. But what this year’s bumper crop of  postulants  demonstrates very clearly is that such ideological differences really don’t exist any more. Pretty much the whole of the French political system has been colonized by liberal  and neoliberal ideology to different degrees, and so there is remarkably little to actually argue about. What Sigmund Freud called “the  narcissism  of minor differences” is on full display at the moment, especially on the Left, where being the anointed candidate means buying off as many special interest groups as you can, by using more extreme rhetoric than your competitor.  So here is Jean-Luc Melenchon , for example, making an obvious bid for the ISIS  vote, although  how much support there actually is for Saudi Arabian-style beachwear even among Muslims is doubtful. But I suppose you have to get your support where you can.

The end of the Communist Party, the destruction of the Socialist Party and its transformation into a rag-tag  bundle of identity issue groups  who hate each other, and the failure of the attempt to construct a single party of the  Right produced between them a deeply unstable political scene in France, whose endpoint is very unclear. It is always the case that the complexity and diversity of the French system is capable of producing almost any outcome, but I have a feeling that somehow we have seen nothing yet. But don’t expect “Game of Thrones”: it will be more like a game of deckchairs on the Titanic. 

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