Those who feel neglected by the mainstream left are receptive to the Communist Party’s first presidential candidate since 15 years, whose promises to raise the minimum wage and lower retirement age, as well as tax big business, resonate in France’s former mining region.
Fabien Roussel is a French native from France’s industrial north. This shows how far the traditional centre left has fallen over the past decade and risks becoming irrelevant.
Hidalgo’s difficulties in reviving an once-powerful political force post-war in France highlights a wider struggle of social democratic parties across Europe in order to recover support from a haemorrhaging, despite signs that there is a comeback in Portugal, Germany, and the Nordics.
Near the Belgian border is Valenciennes. This town of 44,000 residents was once fueled by coal and lace. Today’s unemployment rate is over 12%. This is nearly twice the national average, even though it has been falling as more jobs are created.
Roussel said to Reuters that he was reaching out “to those who don’t believe in politics”, those who doubt it, and those who have abandoned a Left that let them down when it was in power,” before addressing about 2,000 supporters in Valenciennes.
Roussel received nearly 5% voter support in the latest IFOP poll, which was almost twice that of his Parti Socialiste rival. This would be the highest score communists have received since 1995, with a score of 5% in April’s election.
Adding to the problems of the centre left, Jean-Luc Melenchon (hard-left) has emerged as an outsider in the race for a spot in the runoff. He would impose capital controls on the long-term jobless and guarantee them jobs.
France’s election follows a decade in which politics in Europe shifted to the right. The result was due to the departure of working-class voters from the centre after the global financial crisis.
It has been turbulent for the Parti Socialiste which, under President Francois Hollande, controlled the Elysee and parliament in 2012. Hidalgo currently polls at between 2% and 3%.
Pascal Delwit, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels, stated that “The Parti Socialiste is on the verge of disappearing”
Parti Socialiste voters saw Hollande’s probusiness volte face halfway through his term as a treachery in a time when they were feeling vulnerable from the forces that of globalisation.
Isabelle Perello (a pensioner) said that the mainstream left has failed voters after she backed Francois Mitterrand, former president of Socialist, and Francois Hollande.
She said that there was not much change in purchasing power or the sharing of wealth as she marched through Paris to support Melenchon.
Others lamented that the Parti Socialiste failed to unify a divided left-wing electorate. Frederic Clemence, a psychologist, praised the centre-left’s progressive policies on civil right but said that “Leftist policy must also have a social-economic component.”
Media reports indicate that Parti Socialiste membership has fallen to 22,000 in 2021, from 220,000 in 2007.
Hidalgo cites Norway, Sweden and Denmark as examples of social democrats experiencing a revival.
She will increase the minimum wage from 15% to 1,465 euro ($1,615) per calendar month, after taxes, and would reinstate a wealth tax that Macron had abolished, punish polluters and raise inheritance tax for those who are the most wealthy.
Hidalgo stated that “it’s true, the 2008 financial crisis raised doubts about how social democrats will respond to it,” Hidalgo said to Reuters.
“My program is closely connected to fighting social injustice and inequalities.”
Voters aren’t convinced if the polls are correct. Hidalgo will not be able to recoup large amounts of her campaign expenses from the state if she scores below 5%. This would add more financial difficulties for a party that has already lost its former headquarters.
Delwit stated that the Parti Socialiste was unable to answer the most pressing socio-economic concerns of voters after a period when many European centre-left parties paid more attention to issues such as gay rights.
Delwit stated that “when socialist parties abandon socialism you lose your traditional voters base.”