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Can Aubry quell Socialist cacophony?

Martine Aubry, who has defeated Segolene Royal in a disputed contest to lead the French Socialist Party, now inherits a seething cauldron of personal ambitions and warring ideological convictions, says Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Martine Aubry, new leader of the French Socialists

You can understand the Socialists trying to put a brave face on it. After all, the battle is now technically over and they do have - finally - a new party secretary.

Grassroots members from around the country are now telling radio interviewers how the differences at the top never affected relationships la base (at ground-level) and how Aubryistes and Royalistes can now link arms and take the fight to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Aubry has said that unity is her watchword, while Ms Royal seems to have dropped her threat of legal action to challenge the results of the ballot.

As Ms Aubry - hot from her victory declaration earlier this week - herself put it: "The right has a few more days to laugh - but from next week, we are back in business!"

Party 'elephants'

If only the poison that has flowed through the Socialists' body-politic could be so easily dispersed.

Socialist members protest against a new vote in the leadership contest
The party is divided into different camps linked to individual figure-heads

In fact, what Ms Aubry has inherited remains a seething cauldron of personal ambitions and warring ideological convictions.

It cries out for a dynamic new leader to settle the arguments once and for all, and turn the party's fire on its real enemy: the country's president.

Sadly, little suggests that Ms Aubry, the mayor of Lille, will be up to the task.

The 58-year-old former employment minister and architect of France's 35-hour week is a serious and decent politician - but few would describe her as an inspirational leader.

Moreover, her victory owes less to her own leadership skills than to the manoeuvres of more practised party veterans - the so-called elephants.

Fabiusiens, Jospinistes etc.

The Socialist Party has forever been divided into different courants - currents - linked to individual figureheads.

Segolene Royal
Thwarted though she may be in her drive for the top job, Ms Royal can still legitimately claim to represent half of the party

In the contest that has just been fought, it was an alliance of these that successfully combined to keep out Segolene Royal.

So-called Fabiusiens (followers of former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius) joined with Jospinistes (ex-PM Lionel Jospin), Strauss-Kahniens (IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and eventually also Delanoeistes (Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe) and Hamonistes (left-winger Benoit Hamon) to choose Ms Aubry as a compromise candidate.

Whether or not - as the Royalists allege and many commentators believe - there was skulduggery at the ballot-box to achieve this end may never be established.

But the elephants got what they wanted. They prevented a takeover by the woman they loathe.

Now Martine Aubry must satisfy those who brought her power. But how can she do that when the only thing they agree on is their opposition to Segolene?

'Royal destiny'

The French Socialist Party still has no comprehensible political argument.

Social democrats sit next to doctrinaire leftists. Self-professed liberals sit next to people for whom liberal is a term of abuse. Nationalisers sit next to privatisers.

The cacophony is overwhelming, and it is hard to see Ms Aubry outshouting the rest. Especially as the "battle Royal" is itself still far from over.

As more than one analyst has pointed out, Ms Royal is a woman who does not understand the meaning of defeat.

Last year, she somehow managed to turn her presidential trouncing into a personal triumph. Now she will do the same again.

Thwarted though she may be in her drive for the top job, Ms Royal can still legitimately claim to represent half of the party. To have come so close to victory against so formidable an alliance was in itself no mean feat.

In the immediate term, she is likely to lie low. She will probably concede in private that she overplayed her hand in so aggressively challenging the poll.

But like her mentor Francois Mitterrand, Ms Royal is a politician who believes in her own destiny.

The next presidential campaign is only three years away and she wants the Socialist nomination. We have not heard the last of her. And neither has Martine Aubry.

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SEE ALSO
Profile: Martine Aubry
22 Nov 08 |  Europe
Profile: Segolene Royal
22 Nov 08 |  Europe


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