Saturday 22 November 2008

42 votes out of 135,000

That is the margin by which Segolene Royal (with 49.98%) has been defeated by Martine Aubry (50.02%) in the run-off election for the French Socialist leadership.

The Royal camp is refusing to accept the result and calling for a revote. But in any event the result may do little to determine the political direction of the divided party.

Thursday's first ballot saw Royal lead with 42.5% of the vote from Aubry with 34.7% and the left's candidate Benoit Hamon MEP on 22.8%.

There are shades of the Healey-Benn Labour deputy leadership contest of 1981 here - where Healey won 50.426% to Benn's 49.574%.

This time, it is the left which has won by a razor thin margin. Hamon will claim the decisive influence after calling for his supporters to back Aubry in the run-off ballot and Aubry's call for the party to be "anchored in the left".

However, it is less clear as to what was at stake in this election. Despite the animosity between the two front-runners, the policy differences between them are not immense. While Royal has been open to an anti-Sarokozy alliance with the political centre, Aubry has also - like Royal - talked rather hazily of the need for modernisation of the party's platform. But no candidate seemed to offer much definition about what this might mean.

UPDATE: The BBC has a good press review of what the French commentators are saying.

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