Nothing Essential Separates Socialists and Centrists

Or so said veteran of the French Left Michel Rocard last weekend with regards to a theoretical Royal-Bayrou alliance to prevent a Sarkozy victory in the presidential election.

I wonder how many commenters here would agree with that statement?

It called to mind remarks made in an interview with Terry Glavin by the Canadian Liberal Michael Ignatieff:

“As for the left, I’ve always been a progressive liberal. I’m a fierce believer in publicly funded health care. I’m a fierce believer in aboriginal self-government. I’m a fierce believer in bilingualism, and I have a fierce attachment to the multicultural achievement in Canada. But you also have to remember that the most bitter fights in modern politics are actually between liberals and anybody to the left. I don’t take it personally.

“Liberals are the people that the left has always hated. If you go back into the 1960s, there was nothing more sneering or damning in the 1960s, when the Georgia Straight began to come out, than calling someone a Liberal. We now associate, `Oh, he’s a Liberal,’ with the right. But when I grew up, in college, all the best and the brightest were slightly to the left of me. . . But run the tape back even further, you know I wrote a biography of Isaiah Berlin, and you listen to Berlin in the 1950s and the 1960s, this anti-war, Cold War liberal, getting pounded by the left for being an apologist for the Americans, for being an apologist for the Cold War, for being an apologist for containment.

“But when you ask the question, `Why are you hated?’ I’m sure it has something to do with me and my obnoxious personal characteristics. I’m sure. But it’s part of a long historical argument that goes back really to the end of the Second World War, to the fracture between liberalism and the social democratic left to straight communists, and that divide was sharp as a knife on the edge. And a liberal believes in a market economy and personal freedom, and these guys, no.

“Liberals I think also have this, and this is a key thing, a strongly anti-protectionist view, of political choice. It’s not an accident that I wrote a book called The Lesser Evil. Politics is about the management of lesser evils. The utopian left has a view that you can engage in a kind of angelic social choice, where there’s no cost, no penalties, no losses. Well, my sense is that politics is always about choosing the lesser evil, in metaphoric terms, and sometimes the lesser evil in a very real sense. You do a small evil to avoid a much greater one. And that’s actually – I don’t want to invest that with any dignity – but it is basically driven by a quite tragic sense of what politics is about. And in my view a more realistic sense. So there we are.”

So here we have Ignatieff portraying his liberalism as a kind of pragmatic socialism. Interesting.

And back to Royal. Having dismissed the idea of a Socialist-Liberal pact and stating France would never go down on its knees for US President George Bush, she surprised both me and Charles Bremner yesterday:

Readers here may remember that Royal has tried to rid herself of the taint of blairisme from which she suffered after praising the British Prime Minister early last year. When France-Inter taunted her over Blair this morning, I expected her to perform her usual evasion, instead, she bravely said the following:

“There was a taboo. The Socialists were not supposed to mention Tony Blair. My concern is to look at what works and see how we can apply solutions to France. Tony Blair invested massively in public services, in health care, schools and the battle against youth unemployment. He succeeded in meeting the challenge.”

As it’s the weekend, feel free to drop thoughts both on what’s left and what’s not, and/or predictions for Sunday evening’s results into the usual box below.

Me? I’m not going to sit on the fence on this one: I think it’s fifty:fifty.