British friends living in France have been asking me to explain what the hell is going on in the main opposition Socialist party. "It's a bit complicated," I say, not knowing where to start. By popular demand here is a cut-out-and-keep aide memoire of the most salient points.
* The Socialist Party will elect a new leader today.
* The 200,000 party members will decide between three candidates:
a) Ségolène Royal, glamorous, failed presidential candidate
b) Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille, architect of France's 35-hour working week and daughter of Jacques Delors, once the most hated Frenchman in Britain and the target of The Sun's "Hop off You Frog" and "Up Yours Delors" campaigns.
c) Benoit Hamon, a young left-winger who few people had heard of up until now and even now
* Ms Royal used to live with the current leader of the Socialist Party François Hollande, with whom she has four children. She threw him out last year, after she lost the presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, allegedly because he - Hollande that is - had an affair with a political journalist. (Confusingly Mr Sarkozy also had an affair with a political journalist).
* Bertrand Delanoe, the gay Mayor of Paris was a candidate and was mean about rival Ms Aubry - and she about him - before he decided to withdraw. He now supports Ms Aubry.
* Mr Hollande supported Mr Delanoe as his successor. He does not support Ms Royal. This is an understatement.
* Ms Royal can talk for France. And talk, and talk, and talk. During the presidential campaign she appeared utterly incapable of giving a straight, succinct answer. (I followed the campaign and by the end I wanted to saw my wrists with a blunt ballpoint every time she spoke).
* Mr Delanoe, who is very popular among Parisians, had his own Hillary Clinton moment last year when required to support publicly Ms Royal's presidential campaign.
* Ms Royal is the favourite to win the leadership battle decided by a vote of party members, but was booed and jeered at a party conference last weekend at Rheims filled with...party members.
* Mr Hollande, a bespectacled Billy Bunter-ish figure who was right-hand man to Lionel Jospin, the Socialist before Ms Royal to have a go at being president but who was knocked into third place by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National, was forced to cancel the conference closing speech as the whole event turned into a viper's nest of insults and mutual loathing.
* Ms Aubry is the French equivalent of Old Labour and Ms Royal, New Labour. They do not like each other. This is also an understatement.
* Ms Royal has hinted that it might be a good idea to let Mr Hamon, who is young but Old Labour, lead the party, to thus thwart rivals Aubry and Delanoe.
* If Ms Royal wins it will probably split the party and destroy any hope of an effective opposition in France for the immediate and foreseeable future.
* Ms Royal still wants to be president and wants to challenge Mr Sarkozy in 2012. If her party carries on as it is, she stands about as much chance as I do of leading France.
There we are. Clear as mud I fear.
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