A divided Socialist Party braces itself for a crucial convention

Ahead of the annual party meeting at La Rochelle, where the Socialists will discuss strategy and try to find unity amid persistent divisions, here's a look back at the party personalities that have made the news over the last year.


Martine Aubry’s 'annus horribilis'

Martine Aubry was propelled to the head of the Socialist Party at the 22nd national congress of the Socialist Party in Reims in 2008, thanks to an improbable alliance between the backers of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former party leader now stationed in Washington, D. C., as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Laurent Fabius, former prime minister under François Mitterrand. But the party’s poor showing in the European parliamentary elections in June dealt a blow to her image and she has had difficulty reasserting her authority. In July, Aubry, a former labour minister and architect of France’s 35-hour work week, called on the Socialists’ enfant terrible, Manuel Valls, to either stop criticising the party or leave it. One day before the convention is to start, Aubry has expressed her support for “American-style” presidential primaries - which would be a new system for French Socialists.

Ségolène Royal preaches ‘brotherhood’

At last year’s convention, former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal urged fellow Socialists to “love one another or disappear” and proceeded to organise “a brotherhood festival”. An increasingly marginalised status within the party did not prevent her from launching an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the post of first party secretary. Royal avoided all dealings with winner Martine Aubry after the poll, but will kick off the upcoming convention at Aubry’s side. Despite signs of reconciliation, Royal remains focused on her goal of being re-elected president of the Poitou-Charentes region.

Vincent Peillon, alliance hunter

A former philosophy professor, Vincent Peillon was narrowly elected to represent France’s south-western region during June’s EU parliamentary elections. Peillon supported Ségolène Royal at November’s congress in Reims, but tensions are increasing with Royal allies who accuse him of wanting to lead the pro-Royal movement. Closest to the party’s left-wing branch, Peillon has promoted the idea of a wide alliance encompassing both extreme-left Communists and centrists belonging to the Democratic Movement, or MoDem, party.

Arnaud Montebourg, focused on the primaries

This representative of Saône-et-Loire has been recently advocating the designation of a single left-wing presidential candidate for 2012 and counts Paris’ Mayor Bertrand Delanoë among his supporters. Arnaud Montebourg has been an ardent proponent of US-style open primaries (endorsed on Thursday by Martine Aubry), and went as far as threatening to tear up his Socialist membership card if this change is not instituted.

Benoît Hamon, eyeing his next move

A figurehead for the party’s left wing, Benoît Hamon, the youngest candidate in the 2008 race for first party secretary, created a sensation by garnering about 20 percent in the first round of voting. He then urged his supporters to support Aubry in the second round vote; when she won, Aubry returned the favour by appointing Hamon party spokesperson. The promotion turned into a bit of a curse when the position prevented Hamon from running for the top spot in the European Parliamentary elections and he ended up losing his EU Parliament seat. Today he refuses to enter an alliance with centrists, and has expressed support for Arnaud Montebourg’s proposition for open primaries.

Pierre Moscovici, still waiting for his chance

The member of parliament for Doubs, in eastern France, arrived at last year’s convention with the hope of gathering support for a bid for the post of first secretary. But Pierre Moscovici found himself sidelined by an alliance between supporters of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Laurent Fabius. He was thus left to join the Bertrand Delanoë camp -- a strategic error, since the mayor of Paris threw in the towel to support Aubry at the party congress in Reims. Still, news magazine “Le Point” reports that “Mosco” remains determined to be a candidate in the presidential primaries.

Manuel Valls keeps his distance

The man who stands farthest to the right on the Socialist spectrum joined Royal supporters at last year’s party congress in Reims. During the subsequent race for the first party secretary post, Manuel Valls launched pointed attacks against his rivals, accusing the Aubry camp of fraud. Valls has continued to criticise Aubry’s leadership, calling for a massive overhaul of the party – including a change of name - and expressing approval of some of centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies. On June 29, Valls, who is mayor of Parisian suburb town Evry, announced his candidacy for the presidential primaries under the slogan “the Left needs optimism”. In July, Aubry told him to tone down his criticism of Socialists or leave the party, which he refused to do. Valls declined the invitation to attend the convention at La Rochelle.


And the others…

Ever since he passed the torch to Martine Aubry, former first secretary François Hollande has been reassessing his position within the party. Hollande is planning to announce that he will join the list of presidential candidates for 2012, but remains opposed to the idea of opening the primaries to leftist sympathisers who are not party members.

Exiled from political life since taking the helm of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., Dominique Strauss-Kahn enjoys great popularity among the French. Yet President Sarkozy has been known to remind Strauss-Kahn that he owes his current position to the centre-right head of state himself, presenting a potential conflict of political party allegiance for “DSK”. Strauss-Kahn’s supporters have not yet taken a definitive stance on the hotly contested issue of how to carry out primaries.

The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, remains one of the party’s most popular figures, but his presidential aspirations took a hit when he lost the race for the position of first secretary and threw his support behind Aubry.


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