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Delanoe Throws His Hat Into the Ring in the Race to Lead France's Socialists

 


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As of yesterday it's official. The current mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has declared he's running to become the next leader of this country's Socialist party.

It hasn't perhaps been the best kept secret here in France, as his name hasn't been far out of the headlines for most of this year as a potential successor to the current incumbent François Hollande.

At the end of July a poll in the national daily newspaper, Le Parisien, showed that party members put him ahead in the race to become their next leader.

So why then is Delanoë's declaration so important? And what are its possible implications?

Well to start off with it's the manner in which he made his announcement

There was no razzamatazz, none of the “bling bling" that seems to have pervaded French politics since the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, first came to office 15 months ago, and no apparent desire to resort to verbal fisticuffs (in this instance at least) with his main rival for the job, Ségolène Royal.

She, you might remember, was the party's defeated candidate in last year's presidential elections.

Mind you, that's not to say the Delanoë has been averse to making scathing comments about Royal in the past. We are after all talking politics here. Among other things Delanoë has accused her of running a directionless (presidential) campaign last year and holds her partly responsible for the malaise in which the Socialist party now finds itself.

Delanoë has prepared the groundwork for his long awaited official announcement very carefully.

He let one of his main political backers, the former prime minister and failed presidential candidate back in 2002, Lionel Jospin, do all the legwork earlier in the year on a national level, when he was prevented from doing so because he was running for re-election as mayor of Paris.

Then towards the end of campaigning in those local elections, the ever media-savvy Delanoë (and let's face it, that's a pretty important component of 21st century politicking) appeared head-to-head on national television with his main rival for the capital's top job, Françoise de Panafieu of the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

And then the crowning glory (so far) with the release at the end of May of his book “De l'audace" in which he set out some of his visions for the future of Socialism in France.

While Tuesday's announcement probably didn't exactly come as a shock, choosing to do so in an interview with one of the country's most respected newspapers, Le Monde, perhaps sent a signal that Delanoë wanted to make a break from staged photo ops which have characterised French politics recently.

So why is Delanoë's declaration important? Well the malaise in which the Socialist party finds itself is undeniable - even they admit it, in spite of a relatively strong showing in March's local elections.

The Socialists are riven by political infighting (of which Delanoe hasn't exactly been guiltless) and there's a battle on for the future direction of the party. It's at more perhaps than a crossroads, and if it doesn't unite behind one leader, some political commentators have suggested there could be a split.

Part of that is probably down to Sarkozy of all people, who has done a pretty good job of dividing and conquering. He has invited prominent Socialists into government such as the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and the junior minister for urban policy, Fadela Amara. Or he has successfully recommended them for high level jobs overseas such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the International Monetary Fund.

There's talk in the media that some factions of the party might consider a possible realignment with the Communist party which took a hammering in the national and local elections, and the far Left of Olivier Besancenot's La Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League, LCR).

And then of course there's Royal, who has spoken about perhaps moving the party closer to the Centre and a more populist “listening and hearing" approach to politics.

Delanoë firmly rejects any sort of alliance - even with MoDem, the centre party, and in recently outlining his vision for the future of the party called on it to embrace economic liberalism and to accept the principle of competition - long a taboo to many on the Left.

For many, especially among the party faithful, Delanoë represents the future of the Socialist party. The 58-year-old is often accused of having a somewhat autocratic style and often portrayed as a control freak, but some think those are the very strengths needed to hold the party together and provide an effective oppostion.

Finally and probably not most importantly, Delanoë is openly gay. Perhaps that's not an issue - it certainly hasn't been during his tenure as mayor of Paris - but it could become a point picked up by the international media should he become the party's leader and its eventual presidential candidate in 2012, for no other reason than it reflects a change in attitudes and acceptance towards sexuality within France and abroad over the past couple of decades.

So now he's thrown his hat in the ring, we only have to wait until November to see how he fares. There's a whole gaggle of pretenders to the crown - declared and yet to declare. But at the moment it seems that it's very much Delanoë who's in the driving seat.

Only party activists get to vote in November's election, and that's a fact of which he's very much aware.

But in four year's time, come the presidential race, it'll be the country that votes. And Delanoë will surely want to have the popular base of support, not only from which to launch a powerful campaign against Sarkozy (should he decide to run for re-election) but also to take him all the way to the Elysée palace.

Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com

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