The French right can rightly claim to be, once again, ‘la droite la plus bête du monde’, ‘the most stupid Right in the world’, even managing to outsmart a Socialist Party also well known for its internecine conflicts.French politics appears alien to us. In Britain, the party is always bigger than its leader (whatever delusional leaders might think). But in France, political parties come and go, and are often little more than loose alliances or fan clubs for charismatic individuals (David Owen would have thrived in French politics; it was his tragedy not be born French).
France’s two-stage electoral system forces fractious rivals into two large and unwieldy coalitions, one left and one right. But it takes a strong personality to hold these coalitions together. The inevitable internal bust-ups (whether the socialists in 2008 or UMP this year) rarely involve differences of opinion on issues of substance, but seem to outsiders more like incomprehensible hillbilly feuds. One similarity with Britain, however, is an eternal political verity: one’s rivals are in other parties but one’s enemies are in one’s own.
The current socialist president François Hollande is falling in the polls and the right should be profiting. But unless the right can sort out the present shambles, it will hand victory to Hollande on a plate in 2017.