Benoît Hamon can rejuvenate the French Socialist party

This week the French election made headlines again with its young, stubble-baring newcomer: Benoît Hamon. The 49-year-old drew 35 per cent of the vote in the primary race for the Socialist Party, claiming his victory “sent a clear message of hope and renewal”. As the most far-left candidate, it would seem Hamon appeals as a character with the potential to rejuvenate the Socialist party, which is currently in dire need of regeneration, given that President Hollande’s satisfaction rating of four per cent makes him France’s least popular President since the country was last at war.

Hamon’s policies include a 10 per cent increase in the current minimum welfare payment for France’s poorest 18-25-year-olds, increasing payments to around €600 a month. He also wants to reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours and levy a tax on robots.

Meanwhile, he came out in support of French Muslims by strongly condemning the ‘Burkini Ban’, which was supported by others members of the party. One such figure just so happens to be his closest rival, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who took 31 per cent of the votes. In contrast to Hamon, Valls is a law and order ‘strong man’ who has positioned himself to the right of the party. Labelling Hamon as an ‘idealist’, Valls is attempting to present himself as a champion of realism, capable of leading the party with a tough pro-business orientation.

But does this all matter? Regardless of their choice, the Socialist party is unlikely to win the French Presidency. In fact, the Socialist presidential candidate is set to come in fifth according to current polls. The contestants include the Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon for Les Républicains, and Emmanuel Macron, whose record as former economy minister has seen his reputation grow on a ‘neither left or right’ ticket.

However, Mr Hamon’s campaign is not without consequence. If Hamon were to be chosen as the Left’s candidate, this would likely push centrist votes towards Emmanuel Macron, whose growing popularity threatens Marine Le Pen. Indeed, a Le Pen defeat could also come to pass with a successful campaign from François Fillon, whose conservative votes could equally pass to Le Pen were he to falter.

After the political rollercoaster of 2016, Le Pen winning the French presidential election no longer seems far-fetched. Brexit aside, it would arguably be the biggest shock to European politics in recent history. The Front National under the Le Pen duo has become more dangerous, xenophobic, racist, and, unfortunately, representative of the rise of far-right parties in Europe. Her allies extend across the Atlantic. Le Pen has openly stated that she feels “comforted” by the smug and victorious abomination that is Donald Trump’s presidency.

But fighting against her rise, within the confines of conventional political strategy, has proven a difficult task. Unfortunately, Front National votes are hard to identify since they are not pulled from a particular pocket of society.

Yet their supporters are apparently united “by a sense that they don’t feel represented by the workings of the current political system”, according to Joël Gombin, an expert on the French far-right. The rise of these sentiments has proven hard to curb, but with recruits like Benoît Hamon, France has a chance to escape this fate.

Image Credit: Parti Socialiste

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