Benoit Hamon: the bulwark against Valls

Notes from the front of 28-01-2017

On Sunday (tomorrow) we will know who will be the candidate for President of the Socialist Party (SP) after one month of debate. Following the first round of this selection two contenders remain: the leader of the SP’s left opposition Benoit Hamon who came first with 36 per cent ahead of the last prime minister Manuel Valls (30 per cent). This result was taken as a slap in the face by Valls, but what would you expect after five years of austerity, whipping up racism and imposing the state of emergency – three things he was a strong promoter of.

Who is Hamon? He represents one of the currents of the left in the SP which was included in the government when Hollande was elected President in 2012. But after Valls became the prime minister in 2014 he left the government. Several months later he joined the group of ‘Frondeurs’ within the SP which since 2012 had been opposing the government’s economic policy, that consisted of helping business, cutting public services and pensions for the working class. This group of MPs were about 20 strong in 2012. In 2016 it grew to its highest number, 56 MPs out of a total of 292 SP MPs, in response to the El Khomri Bill, a measure attacking labour and trade union rights. This was the first time this group of MPs were considered voting against a bill.

Under Hollande’s Presidency these ‘Frondeurs’ MPs have predominantly expressed their disagreement by abstention in the parliament. The SP leadership has insisted it will not accept opposition within its ranks and claims it would play into the hands of the right wing and extreme right parties. The ‘Frondeurs’ internalised the leadership’s threats and only put up a mild opposition to Hollande’s right wing policies for the first four years. On one occasion the SP spelt out clearly that any SP MP who voted against an austerity bill would be excluded from the party. Many times the government has just chosen to use the Article 49-3 which allows it to pass a bill without any discussion in parliament. Recently a few MPs decided to leave the SP because of its right wing approach. This is similar to what Mélenchon did in 2008, previous having been a prominent leader of the SP for decades.

The context of the SP’s current Presidential primaries is that its support has collapsed. Polls report that Hamon as the Presidential candidate would get 8 per cent of the votes, Valls is on 12 per cent as he is popular among the right outside the SP. These low figures of support for the SP are due to the disastrous anti working class and anti migrant policies it has pursued for years, which have led to the growth of the worst enemies of the working class. In polls the SP candidates are far behind Marine Lepen (26 per cent), Fillon (24 per cent), Macron (21 per cent) and Mélenchon (16 per cent). As Fillon’s project of crude austerity has become more widely understood, this candidate of Les Républicains (the key capitalist party), has seen his popularity fall. Macron’s support has risen as he is propped up by the media and the capitalist class as their alternative to Fillon.

Valls’ has been conducting a reactionary campaign against his opponent Hamon since the first round. Islamophobia has been whipped up with attacks made on Hamon because of his past statements defending Muslims, for example supporting women’s right to wear the Hijab at university. The attacks on Hamon have echoed those made by the far right. Valls opposes women being allowed to wear the hijab in a number of places and claims it is ‘oppressive’ to wear a hijab. He has a reactionary vision of ‘laïcité’ and of what he wrongly claims is ‘feminism’. Valls’s policies as prime minister are overwhelming unpopular amongst the working class and in particular with Muslims and the black community.

The run off round in the SP candidate election is tomorrow (Sunday).