Socialists routed in French local elections; new prime minister named

In 2012, the French narrowly elected Socialist Party candidate Francoise Hollande to be their president. Polls showed that even as they did so, voters had little confidence in Hollande’s ability to deal with the economy. His victory seemed to stem in part from the electorate’s dislike, on a personal level, of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hmm. No confidence in the leftist, but ill-will towards the center-right candidate? Sounds like President Obama’s reelection scenario.

In the past two years, the lack of confidence in Hollande has been vindicated. As a result, his Socialist Party was routed over the weekend in local elections.

At least 140 towns turned out the Socialist mayor in favor of the center-right alternative. Eleven other towns handed control to the National Front, an unsavory right-wing party headed by Marine Le Pen. The National Front has never held power in more than four towns until now.

Accordingly, Hollande is reshuffling his government. Out goes non-descript Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. In comes Interior Minister Manuel Valls who, according to polls, is the most popular French Socialist at this moment.

In France, the Interior Ministry is responsible for maintaining public order. Thus, it’s good politics for Socialist presidents to appoint centrists to run it (too bad that Obama doesn’t follow this model). Valls is considered a centrist and is said to be respected by French conservatives. Apparently, Sarkozy tried to recruit Valls into his center-right government.

What does the appointment of this “centrist” mean in policy terms? It seems to indicate that Hollande will pursue EU-mandated pro-market economic reforms and perhaps more spending cuts. Whether Valls’ popularity would survive stepped-up spending cuts is an interesting question. Reversing recent tax increases might be more the ticket.

Meanwhile, there was good news for the Socialists in Paris, where their candidate, Anne Hidalgo, will become the city’s first female mayor.

Hollande’s relationship with Hidalgo is close — too close for Sigolene Royal, his former “partner” and former head of the Socialist Party. It is said that Hollande and Hidalgo had an affair while Hollande and Royal were a couple.

Hollande gets around.

If the French thought Sarkozy had too much drama in his personal life, what do they make of their current president? Nothing, most likely, that a strong economy wouldn’t remedy. But just now, that economy seems like a distant dream.

UPDATE: Andrew Stuttaford argues, as does Daniel Hannan, that the commonly used description of Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party as “right-wing” isn’t quite accurate. I agree. I stand by “unsavory” though.


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