June 06, 2019
Is this the end of traditional parties as we know them?
After the near-demise of Social Democrats in Europe with the notable exception of Portugal and now Denmark, are the Conservatives next? Torn in France between a robust far right and an emerging new centre, between a hard and soft Brexit in the UK, or worn out by a grand coalition in Germany, the conservative parties in these three big countries share a common fate of dwindling support in the polls. In the UK their position is threatened by the rise of Nigel Farage's Brexit party, in France they seem to loose their base and bearings in the mutually beneficial stand-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
Valérie Pécresse just delivered another blow in a critical moment of anguished party introspection when she announced her surprise departure from Les Républicains last night. She is the third heavy-weight politician to quit Les Républicains after Xavier Bertrand and Alain Juppé. Pécresse defended her decision saying that the party is stuck in its ways and that the transformation of the right cannot be done from inside the party. At the head of her movement Libres!, Pécresse gambles on playing a role in the upcoming regional elections and possibly also the national elections. For the right this means further fragmentation. Will LR survive many more flights to safety elsewhere?
Pécresse had been a leading defender of a broader inclusive agenda, and has been opposing Laurent Wauquiez in his decision to move further to the right and to fish in the same electoral ponds as Le Pen's Rassemblement National. Now that Wauquiez is gone, her resignation came as a shock to her supporters. The press reports that she has taken her decision after attending the meeting Gerald Larcher organised on Tuesday with the conservative leaders from the regions and parliament.
After the catastrophic results in the European elections, Larcher is counting on the 55,000 locally elected councillors to resurrect the party through a decentralised party convention in autumn. We can see why Pécresse may have concluded that this will compromise her chances inside the party. As long as the Républicains remain in this state of confusion, expect more people to jump, some seeking the sunny uplands of Macron's LREM with its national appeal and emerging track-record of success. The conservative members of the government and LREM campaigners are actively calling on conservatives in local elections to run on their ticket under the arch-gaullist slogan, serve your country not your party!