|Manuel Valls, French Social Democrat|
Well, they may have 'heard the message', but Hollande has clearly decided that it's not because he heard it that he should listen to it. That's why he has chosen to continue to implement his highly unpopular policies, which consist of a mix of measures designed to help businesses, tax households and kickstart a decrease in France's record unemployment rate via structural reforms. Going further, he has eliminated a couple of dissenting voices in the ranks of the cabinet and installed Manuel Valls in Matignon. But why Valls?
Hollande's presidential election campaign was highly ambiguous, alternating as it did between promising to reform France's antiquated job market and saying he was the "enemy of finance", or saying he would reduce public spending yet promising job creation based on it being financed by the state. However, after a few initial months trying to borrow his way out of debt whilst continuing to spend he was sharply reprimanded by the EU, investors and the markets. It was at this point that he took the plunge and opted for what is called in France 'the social compromise'. This is the name given to the post war acceptance by the left that the head-to-head ideological class fight against capital was doomed to defeat and that it had become necessary to trade off some of its more hardline values and compromise more with a changing world. In other words, Hollande began to 'do a Tony Blair' and adopt more liberal policies.
Mid-January saw Hollande announcing his 'pact of responsibility', a plan to inject money into the business world and make it easier for companies to hire and fire, and to drive his point home he announced that he was a Social-Democrat in the sense that he was going to "take action to reach a compromise with big business." The announcement was roundly condemned by the left wing of his party and all the other left-wing parties, the press didn't quite know what to make of it all, and the public became even more disillusioned with him than it had been up till then. But the government was rattled by the extent of the revolt, which reached its peak when the local elections came around, hence Hollande's drubbing. Hollande now needed a whipping boy, a sacrifice to feed to the lions of public opinion.
Enter Manuel Valls. He was a natural choice for two reasons. Firstly, he is a stickler for discipline, and party discipline in particular. During Ayrault's time dissention was rife within the cabinet, which sent out conflicting statements on just about everything to the point where the government looked more like a rudderless ship with a rowdy and rebellious crew aboard than anything else. Valls, however, is expected to restore order and impose a more coordinated and disciplined system of communicating with the press and public, whereby unofficial press statements and interviews shall become more sparse and dissention within the ranks sanctioned. Think 'professional', instead of 'amateur', politics.
More importantly however, he has been chosen because he shares Hollande's political and ideological approach. Intensely disliked by left-wingers, he, like Hollande, is a self-proclaimed Social-Democrat whose ideas have often been compared to those of Tony Blair. He will be best remembered at the Interior ministry for continuing to implement policies from the days of Sarkozy that resulted in a no-nonsense policy of deporting Roma and other illegal immigrants as well as failed asylum-seekers.
He is also known to be a critic of the dogmatic left-wing approach to fixing problems that consists of clamouring for more spending as well as tighter controls over the business sector. A pragmatist, Valls considers that the only way out of the economic hole that France is in is to reform its employment legislation, help businesses to create jobs and accept that belts are going to have to be tightened. In other words, he is a 'Hollandist'.
The Hollande-Valls tandem shall probably last until the next presidential elections, three years from now, and between now and then they are to steer the country through a round of spending cuts, debt-paying and structural reform of the economy in general that is designed to get the country back on its feet.
One may agree or not with these policies, but one thing's for sure, Hollande and Valls are no longer representative of a socialist agenda. They are implementing an unabashedly social-democratic agenda. If they fail, the right will sweep back into power like a tsunami, and the Socialist Party will be in opposition yet again after just one term in office.
But if they succeed, they will, ironically, have effectively killed off French Socialism and replaced it with fully-fledged social democracy.