Yes, it’s two down and one to go of the televised debates between the Stoa’s man Laurent Fabius and rival éléphants Ségolène Royal and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as their battle for the Socialist nomination for French President approaches its November dénouement. More exciting still, your correspondent’s recent computer upgrade means he can now watch the debates in their entirety on www.laurent-fabius.net.
The first debate on 17 October (available for viewing here) saw Fabius — fresh from declaring to a public meeting six days earlier that “In a few months we will have a new President of the Republic. There is a one in two chance it will be a Socialist. And an important chance that it will be me.” — announce that “I am above all a militant“, as he declared combating injustice and inequality to be his top priority. In a rare break with the UK media’s concentration on Royal alone, one contributor to Radio 4’s The World Tonight cruelly commented that Fabius came across as a grand bourgeois trying to reinvent himself as an extreme leftist.
The second debate on 24 October (available for viewing here — there is an edited transcript in the print version of today’s Le Monde, but that leaves out the all-important visual clues) was especially noteworthy for the way Fabius carried out what Libération described as a “bazooka” attack on Royal’s proposal for randomly selected citizen’s juries as dangerous populism, that he argues will play into the hands of the extreme right and undermine the principle of universal suffrage.
Also watch how Fabius’ hand gestures become ever more vigorous as he attacks Royal for going against agreed party policies with various gimmicky recent announcements. Needing no lessons in popular dissatisfaction with the system — as he reminds us, Fabius represents a workers’ constituency — he denounces Royal’s suggestion that anyone who disagrees with her ideas is out of touch with reality and thinks all is well with France. Then he takes a well-aimed swipe at Blair-style private finance initatives, ridiculing Strauss-Kahn’s apparent recent suggestion that the chair of nuclear physics at the Sorbonne could be sponsored by EDF!
Moving on, Fabius makes his own proposals for extended after-school support, full student grants (pointing out that students who work during their studies are 40% more likely to fail) and the legalisation of gay marriage and adoption. A moving story of a Congolese accountant who has lived in France for 22 years and whose wife, the mother of a French citizen, is facing deportation, on the grounds that the father could look after his son alone, bolsters Fabius’ call, contra Royal, for a large-scale regularisation of sans-papiers. “France is France, for God’s sake!”
(Le Monde’s TV critic unkindly suggests however that Fabius was laying it on a bit here: “This is always the problem with Laurent Fabius. It’s when he wants to show himself to be close to people that he seems the least sincere”.)
Fabius’ website boasts that he alone was responsible for introducing two themes into the debate which would otherwise have been excluded: public services (many hand gestures again, as he blames cuts in public services for last years’ riots) and secularism (he was the only one of the three to support the ban on religious symbols in schools). Finally, his summing up announced that a Fabius presidency would bring about urgent social measures (not to mention the relaunch of “social Europe”) as well as a shift in powers from a monarchical presidency to parliament.
The final debate, focusing on Europe and foreign policy, takes place on 7 November.
Meanwhile, those of you who enjoy the retro feel of French presidential elections (Stopped being prime minister twenty years ago? No problem) may be pleased to hear that Arlette Laguiller will indeed be standing, whatever the outcome of the tortuous discussions about a unified candidate of the “left of the left”. Along with Jean-Marie Le Pen, that makes at least two 2007 candidates who first stood for president in 1974!