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New Left Review 17, September-October 2002

The collapse of the Centre Left in France, after five years of Jospin’s complacent government: the whys and wherefores of its electoral debacle this spring, and the panic-stricken prostration to Chirac that followed it.



So ungrateful. So irresponsible. So unfair. As the initial shock of the first round of the French Presidential elections on April 21 gave way to self-righteous indignation on the part of Socialist Party officials and left-liberal pundits, it was hard to avoid the obvious Brechtian conclusion: the electorate should be dissolved forthwith and a more satisfactory one appointed. After all that had been done for them—35-hour week, mild economic growth, dip in unemployment—and with such a selfless, upright candidate as Lionel Jospin, how could the couches populaires be so infantile, so disloyal? Their scandalous display of indifference or hostility to the Centre Left—expressed in abstentions, or Far Left or Right votes—had left France at the mercy of Fascism. Overnight, the same establishment called with one voice for the French people to support Jacques Chirac, a reeking sack of political corruption who should have been behind bars long ago, as the champion of their liberties—while assuring its electors that this would be the best way to bar a victory of the Right in the subsequent legislative elections. The result was predictable. Chirac, handed a plebiscite, repaid the ‘plural Left’ with a massacre at the polls for the National Assembly. France now has the largest conservative majority for decades.

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Sebastian Budgen, ‘The French Fiasco’, NLR 17: £3

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