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Martine Aubry - The Lady In Waiting.

Jun 10, 2008
She might have been absent from national politics for the past eight years, but now a one-time leading light of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry, appears to be back in favour.

Aubry is being touted - not least by herself - as a figure behind which activists could unite in the tussle for the leadership of the party due in November.

Many within the party are keen to avoid a high profile media brawl between what are considered to be the two main contenders for the post - Ségolène Royal and Bertrand Delanoê.

Royal, who was the party's defeated candidate in last year's presidential election has already declared she's standing. Delanoê, the mayor of Paris, has yet to confirm that he'll be a contender even if everyone knows his intentions are obvious.

Both apparently want to grab the party by the scruff of the neck and shape it according to their own vision of the future. At the core of Royal's philosophy is participative democracy and the need to listen to what the grass roots are saying. Delanoê on the other hand has recently embraced liberalism and the need to blend it with Socialism according to his own autocratic style.

The fear and the reality for many within the party though is that these two very strong potential leaders are in fact only interested in personal ambition - at the expense of party unity - and are intent on using the position of leader as a launching pad for a presidential bid in 2012.

A battle between the two could accentuate the divisions already evident after last year's electoral defeat and the resulting cherry picking of some of its key figures to governmental posts by the president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Activists have been desperate to find someone around whom they could rally who would represent traditional Socialist principles and take over the reins of power without any perceived personal ambitions.

And at a weekend meeting at which all strands of the party were represented, Aubry seemed to fit the bill.

She herself outlined the need for a national figure capable of smoothing over differences among party members while remaining true to Socialist principles. And of course that's exactly how she defined herself, taking pot shots at both the leading candidates while stressing that she represented what the party had always stood for and should continue to stand for.

Her credentials would appear to back up her arguments to a great extent. Aubry was the architect of the 35-hour working week when she was minister of employment from 1997 until 2000 in the government of Lionel Jospin.

She resigned from the government in 2000 and a year later followed in the footsteps of her mentor and a former Socialist prime minister, Pierre Mauroy, to become mayor of the northern city of Lille. It was seen as part of a strategy to build a base of support ahead of the 2002 presidential elections in which it was widely expected that she would be nominated prime minister in the event of a Jospin win.

History of course can be pretty unforgiving in reminding us of failure as not only did Jospin suffer a humiliating defeat - not even making it to a second-round run off - but Aubry also lost her seat in parliament and basically retired from the national scene.

Now she would appear to be back with a vengeance and there's no doubting that she has used the last eight years out of the limelight to build up a powerful base of support within the party.

Aubry easily won re-election as mayor of Lille in this year's local elections and she has an enviable political pedigree - she is after all the daughter of the former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors.

While she might represent the "old guard" Aubry also enjoys support from diverse elements within the party who are united perhaps most in their desire not to see the party implode under the weight of a Royal-Delanoë duel.

But party members must also be wary. In looking for a candidate who ostensibly does not have presidential ambitions, they may in fact simply be feeding that desire for potential personal gain at the expense of the party itself.

If activists are to look around for a real alternative to Royal and Delanoê, one whose way forward is not a return to the habits of the past, then there are alternatives already available. And perhaps they need look no further than a rising star within its ranks - and one who has already put himself up as a candidate, Manuel Valls.

For the moment though the buzz is all about Martine Aubry, which could signal trouble as her return might be interpreted by the electorate as not a case of a new broom to sweep clean but more of an old one to brush everything under the carpet.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specialising in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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