It looks like France could have its very own Jeremy Corbyn. On Sunday, Benoît Hamon seemingly came out of nowhere to win the left primary. With 60 per cent of votes counted, Hamon was winning with 58 per cent, leaving former prime minister Manuel Valls trailing behind with just 41 per cent. It was official: Hamon is the Parti Socialiste’s presidential candidate.
The press has made much of this Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbynesque figure, who claims to represent a left that can ‘hold its head high’. Certainly, he is following in Corbyn’s footsteps by leaving a fractured party in his wake. Just hours after his surprise win, the PS MP for Cantal, Alain Calmette, tweeted his support for independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, and several Valls supporters were questioning whether they could support their new leader.
Known in French political circles as ‘petit Ben’ (little Ben), which gives you a fair idea about how unexpected his quick rise to leadership has been, Hamon served in Francois Hollande’s government as education minister. But he resigned in 2014 because he believed Hollande had reneged on the socialist agenda.
Hamon wants to introduce a universal income and a tax on robots which replace workers. He wants to reduce the 35-hour working week, and he believes in legalising cannabis and euthanasia. The groups he appeals to reflect his Corbyn-style popularity. Hamon is a keen environmentalist and wants to see diesel outlawed by 2025. He polls well with greens and those who consider themselves to be more radically left than the current Hollande government. Yet while he shares some similarities with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, Hamon’s policies are unlikely to be radical enough for Melenchon’s supporters.
And there is no reason to doubt Hamon’s sincerity. He quit his government position on a matter of principle, and is clearly alert to the mistakes Hollande has made. One of his suggestions is the introduction of a ‘49.3 citizen’ policy — a response, no doubt, to the undemocratic article 49.3 that Hollande used to push his labour-law reforms through parliament without a vote — whereby French citizens would be able to demand a referendum on a bill they disagreed with, if they managed to gather 450,000 signatures (around one per cent of the voting population). The idea is commendable and shows he is savvy to the outrage Hollande caused.