Benoît Hamon, victor of the Socialist Party's primariesMarion Germa

On the 29th January 2017, two million French citizens voted in the presidential left-wing primaries. Benoît Hamon, figure of the left of the Socialist Party, defeated Manuel Valls, President Hollande’s Prime Minister and leader of the right of the Socialist Party. This result was seen as a stark rejection of Valls’s legacy, the final nail in Hollande’s coffin.

During his leadership of the French Socialist Party, François Hollande sought to accommodate all parts of the Socialist Party in order to avoid internal conflict. His consensual approach followed for the first two years of his presidency, but in 2014, in the face of high unpopularity and disappointing economic results, he decided to shift his presidency to the right, appointing Manuel Valls as his Prime Minister.

Three years later, his presidency seems to have irremediably divided the Left. The socialist government’s economically liberal policies, such as the tax break plan for companies investing in research or encouraging job growth, and the ‘simplification’ of workers’ rights – or dismantlement, depending on your point of view – have deeply antagonised the left of the Socialist Party.

In August 2014, three ministers on the left of the party – including the then Minister for Education, Benoît Hamon – were sacked after they were seen criticising the government’s economic policy. Most of the demonstrations held between 2014 and 2017 against the government’s policies were led by left-wing politicians, associations and trade unions.

This situation, along with Hollande’s personal unpopularity, encouraged him to take the decision not to run in the 2017 elections. The Socialist Party is now in a delicate situation, caught up between two poles. One is led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former member of the Socialist Party who left to create a populist left-wing alliance with the Communist Party. The other is a centrist progressive movement headed by Hollande’s former Minister for the economy, Emmanuel Macron.

“Hamon’s best shot at winning the election involves him bringing the Socialist Party to the left, or at least keeping the platform with which he won the primaries”

In the primary, all candidates who attempted to bridge the gap between these two opposing ends of the Socialist Party failed to gather a significant proportion of the vote; the election was effectively held between two visions for the left: one idealistic, ‘forward-looking’ and authentic, and the other experienced, serious and pragmatic.

The question now is: can the Socialist Party survive? Many of the centrist Socialist figures have already defected to Macron, including the influential mayor of Lyon. Were Hamon to move more to the left or to refuse to endorse any aspect of Hollande’s presidency, it is quite likely that the party would split even more dramatically.

Hamon’s best shot at winning the election involves at least keeping the left-wing platform with which he won the primaries. There have been talks between Hamon, Mélenchon and the Green candidate, Yannick Jadot, in the hope of presenting a single candidate at the presidential election. The conflict between Mélenchon and the Socialists over the leadership of the Left prevented them from reaching any meaningful conclusion, but an alliance between the Socialists and the Greens is well underway. Appearing as the candidate of the ‘united left’, Hamon could attract Mélenchon voters.

Can Hamon win? It is too soon to say, although it looks highly unlikely. Hamon ran his campaign in the primaries on the basis of bringing the party back to its left-wing rootsl. He likely did not run with the expectation to win the primaries, let alone the presidency. His platform – including the creation of a universal basic income and the legalisation of cannabis – remains idealistic and vague. As a likeable yet unknown candidate, Hamon also needs to work on his public image in order to appear more presidential.

His victory in the primaries came from his innovative platform, and his desire to speak of issues other than race, immigration and security. If he manages to combine his programme with a more realistic approach and presidential image, he might be the Left’s best chance to win the presidency