Did Nominating Little Ben “Sanders” Mortally Wound the French Socialist Party?

Benoit Hamon, the man opponents deride as “Little Ben,” rolled up 58 per cent of the vote in the PS (Socialist Party) over former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. For now, “Little Ben” has become France’s “Little Bernie Sanders.” What it does to his venerable party will be determined later.

By John Gizzi l January 31, 2017


On Sunday, French Socialists nominated their very own Bernie Sanders in Benoit Hamon. A onetime leftist student leader, former foreign minister and briefly (four months) education minister under retiring President Francois Hollande, the man opponents deride as “Little Ben” rolled up 58 per cent in the PS (Socialist Party) over former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Calling for a “strong, credible left,” Hamon campaigned on a platform that included support for 32-hour work week and a universal basic income for all. His victory spelled, as Financial Times political reporter Anne-Sylvaine Chassany put it, “a clear shift to the left for the Socialist Party, once one of France’s big political forces but weakened and disgruntled by the deeply unpopular presidency of Francois Hollande.”

A recent Ipsos poll among likely French voters showed that, in the initial vote for president in April, nationalist Marine LePen tops the field with 26 percent of the vote, followed by conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon 25 percent, former Economics Minister and pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron 21 percent, and Harmon 7 percent. (Should no candidate win a majority in the first vote, the top two vote-getters compete in a run-off May 7).

Following Harmon’s triumph over Valls—whose moderate, pro-business agenda invited analogies to Tony Blair and the young Bill Clinton—the next question will be how many Valls-like Socialists will abandon their party a new candidate for president.

There is precedent for a mass exodus from a major party. In 1974, the old guard of the RFR (conservative) party gave their blessings to former Prime Minister and Bordeaux Mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Younger party members cried “Foul!” decided they were not going to fall in line with the “ancien regime” of the RPR just because it was someone’s turn to be President.

Led by a young Cabinet minister named Jacques Chirac, a group of 43 prominent party activists issued the “call of the 43” imploring support of Finance Minister Valery Giscard d’Estaing, leader of a small party that backed the ruling party in parliament. Giscard d’Estaing placed second in the first balloting, won the run-off, and as president named Chirac prime minister.

Already there are strong signs history is repeating itself. Even before the primary, Environment Minister Segolene Royal, the 2007 Socialist nominee for president (and mother of Hollande’s four children) praised newcomer Emmanuel Macron and signaled she would support him. Others in the embattled Socialist Party are expected to follow her in the coming days.

Nearly unknown a year ago, Macron, 36, resigned from the Cabinet last August to launch his new movement, En Marche! (Forward). Since then, the onetime Goldman Sachs executive has drawn overflow crowds to his meetings and wild cheers as he proclaims himself outside the political class. He recently scored a coup by signing on much-respected TV newscaster Laura Haim as his campaign spokeswoman.

For now, “Little Ben” has become France’s “Little Bernie Sanders.” What it does to his venerable party will be determined later.

John Gizzi is the White House correspondent and chief political columnist for Newsmax. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research..