‘Mr Disloyal’ (‘Monsieur Deloyal’), screamed the front page of left-wing French newspaper Libération last week, beneath a photo of former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls. It was a justified accusation: Valls had just announced his intention to vote for independent candidate Emmanuel Macron over Benoit Hamon, the official Socialist candidate, in the upcoming presidential election.
Valls said this was a question of ‘responsibility’ rather than ‘heart’. Hamon’s supporters didn’t hold back, labelling Valls’s move ‘shameful’ and ‘pathetic’. In his response, Hamon encouraged voters to ‘turn their backs’ on this kind of ‘old politics’, and described Valls’s decision as ‘another blow to democracy’. At the end of January, Hamon seemed to come out of nowhere to claim victory in the Socialist primary with 58 per cent of the vote. Valls trailed behind with only 41 per cent.
For runner-up Valls to turn around now and throw his weight behind Macron not only leaves a bitter taste, it is an abandonment of party loyalty. There has long been a chasm in the Socialist Party between its more staunchly left-wing faction, now led by Hamon, and its more reformist tendency, which President Francois Hollande leads in government. But Valls’s disloyalty is nevertheless a stark development.
No doubt, Valls is attempting to keep himself in the political game. Macron is the favourite to win the election, but with no official party – just his ‘En Marche’ movement – he will need to make some strategic alliances with members of the main parties to ensure a majority in the French parliament. But the decision by Valls and other Socialists to back Macron risks further undermining their party. A commentator for French newspaper Le Parisien said Valls’s treachery was the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the Socialist Party.
What’s more, it may backfire spectacularly. Republican candidate Francois Fillon was thrilled about Valls’s announcement. ‘It’s what I’ve always said, Emmanuel Macron is Francois Hollande’, said Fillon. This could well be a gift for the conservative candidate, who has plunged in the polls due to an ongoing investigation into allegations he paid his family members for doing fake jobs. The Valls endorsement will only align Macron with the government in the eyes of voters, a government whose leader is the least popular French president in modern times. On Thursday, the day of the announcement, the hashtag #EmmanuelHollande was trending in France.