It is politics at its most raw: a beaten party searching desperately for direction. French Socialists are in the wilderness, defeated in three consecutive presidential elections, struggling to offer meaningful opposition, and still without a leader. Would-be leaders include Segolene Royal, beaten by President Sarkozy last year, and a divisive figure for the Left. Many Socialists would prefer someone, anyone, else. The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, cut a passionate figure as he urged other candidates to rally to his banner to block out Royal.
Among those other runners is Martine Aubry, who has deep Socialist roots, but whose main claim to fame is the 35-hour working week – blamed by many for France’s economic woes. In keeping with the spirit of the age, there is a younger candidate, Benoit Hamon, who is unlikely to win, but whose time may come. There have been public appeals for unity. But behind closed doors, the ‘Anyone-but-Royal’ camp is determined to stop her, even at the risk of consigning the Socialists to years in opposition.