Manuel Valls, "France's Tony Blair," appointed new Prime Minister
FIVE years ago, in 2009, after Manuel Valls urged his unreconstructed party to drop the word “socialist” from its name, he was ordered by its leader to shut up or quit. Two years later, after explaining how painful it would be to remedy France’s economic weaknesses, he scored less than 6% in the party primary for the 2012 presidential nomination. Yet on March 31st François Hollande, the French president, appointed the party’s most heretical activist as his new prime minister, in place of the bland Jean-Marc Ayrault. It was a move as uncharacteristically bold as it is potentially encouraging for the cause of economic reform in France.
That the ultra-cautious Mr Hollande has made such an appointment reflects how crushing was his defeat in the local elections held on March 23rd and 30th. Thanks to high unemployment, high taxes, low growth and inept government, the Socialists lost over 150 towns, mostly to the mainstream right, including Toulouse, which they thought safe, Roubaix and Tourcoing, two towns in the industrial north with a long left-wing heritage, and Limoges, held by the left ever since 1912. Marine Le Pen’s populist National Front picked up eleven more town halls, including Fréjus and Béziers, to add to Hénin-Beaumont, which it won in the first round, a big step forward for her party. The only consolation for the Socialists was that Anne Hidalgo won Paris (coincidentally, she shares with Mr Valls the distinction of Spanish birth and family origins).