I think even though Arun Kapil and I are seeing the same dark clouds over Europe, we are using very different frameworks in interpreting their meaning, and therefore we necessarily reach very different conclusions. The response of Kapil to my earlier comments is a thoughtful, careful, data-driven analytical approach. He reasons that MLP cannot be elected because things aren’t really that bad yet and, besides, the French are much too sensible to vote for her, except as a protest candidate. The dark clouds will somehow dissipate—because they must—and we will somehow find ourselves in the sensible center—again, because there’s no realistic alternative.
It seems to me however, that Europe, and particularly France, has genuinely changed since 2008 in ways that Kapil’s analysis discounts far too heavily. I think the disastrous response of the elites to the financial crises has awakened some demons that we thought had been laid to rest by the European project. Indeed, I think it’s possible to see what might be the very faint outlines of another gathering storm threatening Europe.
As Paul Krugman and others have been saying, the thing that’s mainly responsible for this gathering storm is Europe’s unprecedented commitment to both the euro and to a destructive austerity that is shrinking its economies and flirting with deflation. It’s true that the results of austerity haven’t yet been as “murderous” in France as elsewhere but, whether it’s the desired result or simply an inevitable consequence of economic mismanagement, austerity and the euro are hollowing out France’s economy and destroying the social welfare state. Even an economy as strong as that of France cannot withstand this battering for much longer.
So, yes, perhaps it might have been hyperbole to say that France is today experiencing murderous austerity. Nevertheless, many others in Europe certainly are and the future doesn’t look promising for France. I suppose it would have been more accurate for me to have said that austerity is murderous in Greece, Spain and England but, for the moment, is only ruinous in France with murderous coming up fast on the rails. But, as George Brassens might say, hang here or hang there, what difference does it make if you end up hanged anyway?
Which is my main point. I think the mature, level headed French can see the writing on the wall. They don’t want to be hanged in the name of austerity. Not here. Not there. Not anywhere. Every defector to the FN that has told his or her story in Marianne, Libé and elsewhere has expressed some variation on this theme and the polls confirm that these fears about the future are what’s been driving the rise of MLP.
And yet, the unwavering commitment to austerity by the UMP, François Bayrou and the PS means that a Frenchman who is fearful about the future has no way to vote against the current policies except by voting for MLP. In other words, MLP’s unpopularity will be irrelevant because the election will not be between parties or candidates along a political spectrum of left and right but rather will represent a simple binary choice between austerity and prosperity with MLP coopting the mantle of prosperity.
Of particular concern for me is that there is no electoral outlet on the left for middle class and working class people to protest against their diminished fortunes or to secure a better life for their children at the ballot box. The people of the left must retake their parties from those who have embraced austerity and rejected the political and economic ideas that brought about an era of peace and prosperity in post-war Europe. That is why I renew my call for new leadership on the left that is committed to offering the people hope for a better future through a new manifesto that will embrace a “socialisme du possible” for today.