Remember the nasty turn that the French Socialist Party leadership race took not more than a month ago? Reminder: after casting their ballots to make their choice between centre-left (and former presidential candidate) Ségolène Royal and leftist Martine Aubry, Socialists found out that the margin separating the winner from the loser was only 0.04%, and a legal battles over a few ballot boxes ensued.
In the end, it did not get as nasty as it could have. Royalists (supporters of Royal, that is, not monarchists!) showed some sense of party unity by pulling the plug on ongoing legal battles and accepting the verdict of PS militants who picked, albeit by a slim majority, Aubry as their leader.
However, this sense of party unity was doomed not to last long. The scars from the leadership race are still fresh and it is said that Ms. Royal, after having been her party's presidential candidate, cannot get herself to accept the fact that the Socialists have rejected her charismatic personality for a more left-leaning woman.
Now, how did these divisions play out in the latest Socialist drama?
First, remember that France is undergoing yet another battle between the government and students unions. Socialists, in recent years, have shown less and less interest for classic leftist organizations who rely on classic left-wing mobilization like street demonstrations, such as students unions. However, recently, the leftist wing of the party has tried to build back bridges with such organizations in order to help rebuild their party from its base. This leftist wing is identified to Aubry. Of course, centre-leftists identified to Royal disapprove of such moves. And, after the bitterness of the leadership race, it showed. How?
Julien Dray is a Socialist MP from Essone. He is identified with the left-wing of his party. This week, the Ministry of Finance got a warrant to search his office and his home. The warrant also allowed French police to search the offices and properties of left-wing organizations close to Dray such as SOS Racisme and FIDL (a students union). Of course, Mr. Dray claims his innocence as he is being accused of having received large sums of money from these two organizations. They also both deny any involvement in criminal activities.
Officially, the Socialist Party is offering no comment on the matter. But Le Monde reports that anonymous sources from within the PS have been quoted as saying that this affair has a smell of political retribution. Not formally charging anybody of doing anything wrong, of course, Le Monde concludes that the atmosphere within the PS is worse than ever.
Now, if supporters of Miss Royal leaked information incriminating Mr. Dray, it surely adds to the explosive ambiance that has become the norm in the PS. Both wings of the party will grow more and more suspicious of one another, hence seriously increasing the risk that these divisions will grow into a straight-out party split between centre-leftists and leftists.
President Sarkozy, who just recruited an ex-Socialist into his party, the UMP, must be delighted to watch this. Of course, the next presidential election will be held on 2012, so the Socialists have a shot at reuniting in order to defeat Sarkozy. But my guess is, we haven't heard the last of divisions and bitterness in the PS. And with François Bayrou's centrist party still being a player in the next few years, France could be headed for a big political realignment from its center to its left.