Friday 24 November 2017

'When you're wiped out at the polls, you need to rethink a lot of things'

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis suffered a humilating defeat in the French election. Photo: Getty Images
Jean-Christophe Cambadélis suffered a humilating defeat in the French election. Photo: Getty Images

David Chazan

Nowhere was the rout of François Hollande's Socialists in the first round of France's parliamentary elections felt more keenly than in Paris's 19th arrondissement.

The head of the Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a veteran with decades of experience, suffered a humiliating defeat to Mounir Mahjoubi, a political novice half his age who masterminded Emmanuel Macron's online presidential campaign.

Mr Cambadélis (65) crashed out of the election in fourth place with 8.6pc, mirroring his party's electoral wipeout across France, with only 9.51pc of the national vote. The constituency, with a mixture of working-class families and young professionals, has long been a safe Socialist seat.

Mr Mahjoubi (33), the son of a cleaning lady and a house painter of Moroccan origin, won 38pc of the vote.

A junior minister for the digital economy, the charismatic technology expert, who sports a hipster beard, defeated a hacking attack on Mr Macron's campaign on the eve of the presidential election.

Like many of the new president's supporters, Mr Mahjoubi is a former Socialist activist.


He was attracted to Mr Macron's "neither left nor right" platform after becoming disillusioned with the Hollande government over its failure to revive economic growth and reduce unemployment - nearly 10pc nationally but almost 25pc among 18 to 25-year-olds.

Mr Hollande, who was France's most unpopular president in decades, did not stand for re-election to avoid further humiliation.

Like Mr Cambadélis, the Socialist presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, was among those eliminated from the parliamentary elections in the first-round vote on Sunday.

Mr Cambadélis said: "These results mark an unprecedented setback for the left and for the Socialist Party in particular." He appealed to voters not to give Mr Macron a monopoly on power, which he said would stifle parliamentary debate and undermine French democracy.

But another veteran Socialist MP, Jean-Marie Le Guen, now sees the party's future as a pressure group allied with Mr Macron's party. "We need a new left within the presidential majority," said Mr Le Guen (64).

As well as their lack of support, the Socialists face a financial black hole. Their state funding, which depends on the party's number of seats, will be cut by nearly €9m.

The party may suffer the further humiliation of being forced to move out of its prestigious Left Bank headquarters in a mansion near the National Assembly.

Aléxis Bachelay, a Socialist MP, said that the party is now a fringe group.

"Everything needs to be rebuilt," Mr Bachelay (43) said.

"When you've held power for five years and you're wiped out at the polls like this, you need to rethink a lot of things.

"We will have to change the leaders who brought us here."

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader who won almost 20pc of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, has also lost momentum in the parliamentary polls.

His France Unbowed party took only 11pc of the vote. He is now attempting to rally the left under his banner for the second round of the parliamentary elections next Sunday.

"Some Socialist supporters and other left-wingers may now join our ranks," he said, but analysts argue that his positions are too extreme to mobilise many of them.

Journalists stood outside the French Socialist Party headquarters in Paris yesterday after a horror performance in the first round.

The dismally low turnout - below 50pc as many voters preferred to bask in the sunshine on beaches - appears to have spared Mr Macron's Republic On The Move party, which he founded only 14 months ago.

It was catastrophic for the Socialists and, to a lesser extent, for the conservative Republicans, who won nearly 22pc of the vote but risk losing half of their seats.

The centre-right party, badly damaged by the corruption scandal involving its presidential candidate, François Fillon, risks a split.

A centrist faction is prepared to work with Mr Macron but a more right-wing nationalist group is determined to oppose him.

Alain Juppé, a former conservative prime minister, urged supporters to vote next Sunday, saying the low turnout indicated a "deep malaise" in the electorate.

Marine Le Pen's Front National stands to win a handful of seats at best, although she is well ahead in the race for a northern constituency. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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