France's ruling Socialists lose big in local elections

Back in January, Socialist French President Francois Hollande promised to turn the disastrously foundering ship that is the French economy around, apparently having realized that his erstwhile agenda of taxing the heck out of businesses and millionaires wasn’t going anywhere, by instead instituting tax cuts for businesses that the government hoped would boost the country’s competitiveness. Those tax cuts have yet to materialized, and in February, France’s unemployment rate again ticked upward — which was announced just in time for municipal elections this week. They didn’t go too well for the Socialists, as you might imagine. Via the Financial Times:

French President François Hollande is expected to launch a rapid shake-up of his Socialist government following a second defeat in local elections on Sunday, with big gains for the main opposition UMP party and far-right National Front. …

The main winner of the night was the centre-right UMP, party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. It was set to gain more than 100 municipalities, capturing a majority of larger towns from the ruling party, including Toulouse, Reims, Angers and St Etienne.

According to one exit poll, the UMP and its allies won 49 per cent of the vote in all towns larger than 3,500 inhabitants, against 42 per cent for the Socialists and other parties of the left, and 9 per cent for the FN.

Jean-François Copé, head of the UMP, said the results represented a “blue wave” against Mr Hollande’s government, demanding that the president “absolutely must change policy”.

It hasn’t taken long for the “pink” wave toward Hollande’s Socialist party during his own election less than two years ago to reverse course, with most of the gains going toward the center-right UMP party — but the country’s much more right-wing National Front is getting increasing attention from voters. Robert Zaretsky at Foreign Policy compares the conservatism spreading rapidly throughout the country as Socialism’s massive economic failures mount to the quick rise of the Tea Party as a reaction to big spending and ObamaCare:

What they had to say echoes what Texas conservatives, in particular the Tea Party stalwarts, have been saying for some time: Less federal government (whether D.C. or Brussels), more traditional values, and please, no more immigrants trying to change things around here.

To be sure, close to 40 percent of voters spoke by refusing to speak at all: Never before has the abstention rate been so high in a French election. As with the Texas Democrats — scarcely half a million turned out to vote in the most recent primary — voter abstention is the ruling Socialist Party’s greatest fear. And the problem has only gotten worse as the approval ratings of national leaders have plummeted. François Hollande continues to go in public esteem where no French president has ever gone before: Just before the elections, a poll taken by the newspaper Le Figaro placed his approval rating at 17 percent. (For a little perspective, Obama’s approval ratings in Texas are hovering at just above 30 percent.)

Whether it reflected widespread apathy or hostility, France’s unprecedented abstention rate benefitted the conservative opposition’s base.

A lot of what’s uniting the conservative third party has to do with anti-immigration, anti-SSM, and anti-abortion sentiments, but it looks like pretty much all French Socialism has achieved so far is rapidly pushing more and more French citizens in the rightward direction.