A difficult choice for French liberals

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Rightwing bloggers Andy Mayer and Tom Papworth have been picking fights with their own party, accusing large numbers of us of being guilty by association of being unreconstructed socialists. Andy cites the fact that UDF supporters were split 50/50 in the Sarko/Sego playoff, while even more incredibly Tom bases his argument on an online poll of 40 visitors to his blog in which 53% supported Sego.

Personally, I have no idea how I would have voted, but the idea that this is simply a left/right divide is completely flawed. Simplistically, the French were given the choice between a rightwing leader of a centrist party and a centrist leader of a leftwing party. Policy-wise, and leaving immigration to one side, I am probably closer to Sarkozy than Royal. However, it was a presidential election not a parliamentary one, so personality counts for a lot.

A vote for Sarkozy was a vote for a politician who makes David Blunkett look tactful and libertarian. I remain doubtful about his ability to operate on the world stage or even domestically without causing far more heat than light, a point on which Iain Dale of all people appears to agree. Segolene Royal had a point when she suggested that a vote for him could provoke riots.

Is Sarkozy capable of creating a consensus about the need to reform, or will his combative personality result in deadlock? That is what the French ultimately had to decide yesterday. The Papworth-Mayer slur rests on the calculation that anyone who voted for Royal was simply in favour of the status quo. For that to be true, France would have to have an elective dictatorship. In point of fact, the French President has less power than its US counterpart.

If you think that France wakes up to a bright new morning with reforming zeal in its heart, you are about to be sorely disappointed.

(Speaking of Lib Dem bloggers picking fights, anyone understand why Jeremy Hargreaves is making wild allegations of a Huhnista-putsch going on inside the party, his only evidence being a few critical comments about Ming by someone who supported Simon Hughes in the leadership election? Colour me confused)

10 thoughts on “A difficult choice for French liberals

  1. James I really object to your continuing here to claim that I’m trying to start a row where one doesn’t exist. I most absolutely definitely did not intend to “allege a Huhnista-putsch”. I obviously did manage to give an impression to some people that I was saying there was a ‘Huhne camp’ – re-reading my original post over again I still can’t see how that’s in there, but obviously others, not just you, think it is, and so I accept that. But I have made it very clear that that was not at all what I was trying to say and I don’t for a moment think it is true. This is now the second time I have very explicitly clarified that I was not “making wild allegations of a Huhnista-putsch”, compared to one much less clear statement which you think implies such a claim – I’m not quite sure what much more I can do to try and make this clear!

    I was simply trying to make the point that if the leadership election which some are calling for were to happen, the only obvious candidate in it would be Huhne (I guess there would be others too but he is the only very obvious one at the moment).

    If the Hughes supporter you’re referring to is Rob Fenwick then I confess I didn’t know he was a Hughes supporter – apologies if I should have known that but I’ve only really known anything about his views since he started Lib Dem Voice, which was some six months or so after the leadership election. If my assumption that he was a Huhne voter last year was wrong, then that was a factual error that I apologise for.

    I know conspiracy theories are lots of fun, but could I ask you and others to consider the possibility that the answer to your question in your last paragraph above is that I simply said something which was interpreted in a way I hadn’t anticipated (and have repeatedly subsequently denied), rather than that I was deliberately and incomprehensibly launching an attack on a senior MP whom I admire, get on well with, and having absolutely nothing against?

  2. I think the symbolism is important though – voting for Royal would be taken as support for socialist policies (she’s backtracked from her more centrist position).

    As for the talk of a Huhnista-pustch, there are some who are talking up Clegg, but that’s mostly in the anti-LibDem world (I’m becoming rather flattered by the way the likes of Iain Dale are always attacking the LibDems – obviously we’re a threat 😉 )

  3. Jeremy, I’ll quote your exact words:

    So once you look carefully at the calls for a change in leader, what you actually find is people who voted for Huhne last year and were disappointed he didn’t win, wishing he had done. Well fine, for them personally I guess that’s understandable. But it most certainly isn’t a reason for the party to commit regicide for the second time within 18 months.

    Name one person who is on record as both a Huhne supporter and has gone on record as calling for Ming’s head. Just one. You’ve had plenty of time now to withdraw that claim; instead you’ve simply pretended that it is some kind of ‘extraordinary’ interpretation of your words.

    Personally? I think you were flying a kite and you’re peeved that I called your bluff. Whatever. But don’t you dare accuse me of conspiracy theories when all I’ve done is question a conspiracy theory of your own that you seem unable to justify.

    End this row now: provide some evidence to back up this claim, or publicly withdraw it.

  4. Tristan (re: Royal), I agree with you. That’s why I personally find it so difficult to make up my mind about who I’d have voted for. All I’m saying is that the calculation is rather more complicated than simply who had the best policies.

  5. Re leadership plots, I know Chris Huhne well and have worked with him closely in the period both before and after the leadership election. One thing that is as clear as a very clear thing is that he has been consistently loyal and supportive of Ming’s leadership. More so, it seems, than some of the people who actually backed Ming in the leadership election.

    I’m sure Chris was disappointed to lose and remains ambitious but he has been in the party a long time and it seems to me that his main motivation has been to put the interests of the party first – I’m not sure some of the Young Turks who supported Ming could say the same…

  6. PS – re the French presidential election. Surely the economic direction of France is entirely a matter for the French. It is an entirely legitimate choice for them to opt for either economic liberalisation in the hope of better personal economic standards or to keep their social structures in place that arguably trade economic growth for broader life-benefits.

    BUT for me there would have been no contest in deciding how to vote. Sarkozy plays the politics of race in a dangerous way and his social policies seem closer to Le Pens than to anything a liberal would recognise. Besides which I am not convinced his economic rhetoric is anything more than spin…

  7. James,

    You ask me to name one person and if you’re right about Rob F then it seems I made a mistake about the one I would name. Those lines certainly seem to be being taken as saying something I didn’t mean them to so I guess you’re right it would be better if I removed them so I’m quite happy to do that.

  8. Name one person who is on record as both a Huhne supporter and has gone on record as calling for Ming’s head.

    I’m a Huhne supporter who has called for Ming’s head in the comments of Lib Dem Voice. But then again, I’m a complete nobody – in fact I’m not even a member of the bloody party! Even so, I think I may try to work up my thoughts into a provocative article for LDV, which Rob may or may not publish.

    It’s a shame about Ségolène Royal. I really fancied her.

  9. Right wing? Me? I’m offended! I’m sure I’ve pointed out before that I don’t really hold with this right/left analysis. It’s high time we stopped basing out political alignments on the array of the Estates on the Versaille tennis court in 1789!

    As for picking fights, I think I’ve made it clear that I was being sardonic in claiming that 40 votes in a self-selecting poll indicate anything. I do think that Royale is a vote for the status quo, however, and that the status quo is the last thing that France needs.

    Nonetheless I am disturbed by the fact that Lib Dems in general (not just in my poll, but in other blogs, and elsewhere) instinctively moved first to support Bayrou – a supporter of greater agricultural subsidies, more intervention and “job formation” – and then, when Bayrou fell through, many supported Royal, who was making vast un-costed spending promises including raising the minimum wage to a point where it will stifle job creation.

    I don’t claim Sarkozy is a saint, or even a liberal, but his efforts to loosen the french economy are welcome and long overdue.

  10. Tom, I think the problem is that most UK-based Lib Dems got a very simplified picture of the French election, via the lens of the media. To make it worse, we basically mapped the French Presidential candidates onto our own political scene, and plumped for Bayrou because he was a “centrist” competing against a “left-winger” and a “right-winger”. How many Bayrou-supporting Lib Dems had a clue about his agricultural protectionism? I’m sure it was far fewer than the number who simply said “centrist, sounds good to me”.

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