Is Benoît Hamon the French Jeremy Corbyn? This comparison is often made: however, how relevant is it? We talked to Philippe Marlière, lecturer of political sciences at UCL, and specialist in left-wing European politics.
Benoît Hamon, 49, and Jeremy Corbyn, 67, are both leaders of their parties. In February 2017, Hamon won the French primary elections to become the socialist candidate for presidency, and Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in 2015. They both belong to a main party which is traditionally destined to govern. They both sprang a surprise when they won a popular vote from their supporters, and they both receive criticism from politicians in their own party. Benoît Hamon lost major support from key members of the Socialist Party, such as Manuel Valls who announced he would vote for En Marche! leader, Emmanuel Macron. Jeremy Corbyn has been through an important post-Brexit crisis within his own party, after several MPs accused him of not being vocal enough during the Remain campaign. In protest, they resigned and asked for another popular vote, which he won again in summer 2016. The two of them are considered to be part of the left-wing of their party, and they come from a middle-class background.
Both politicians seem to be in the same boat. However, can we compare them? According to Philippe Marlière, the answer is no, for “generational, cultural, and political reasons”, even if they may appear similar.
“We cannot compare J.Corbyn and B. Hamon for generational, cultural, and political reasons”
Firstly, we cannot compare both parties. They do not have the same history, culture and background. “Hamon comes from a party which is different from the Labour Party: a party which is not linked to the unions and which is a proper social democratic party.” The expert points out that the Socialist party differs from the far left-wing party, which is “allegedly historically marxist, Jacobine, statist”. On the contrary, “the Labour party is a ‘broad church’, historically linked to the unions, and in the absence of a strong communist party, you find a range of characters, from pro-market people to Trotskyists.”
The two politicians are “party apparatchiks”, but their progression within the left wing has been different. Jeremy Corbyn’s engagement in politics and trade unions started when he was in his twenties. He has been the MP for Islington North since 1983. Benoît Hamon was 19 when he became a socialist member. He later became the president of the Young Socialist Movement and a member of the European Parliament. Where would each of them stand now? “Jeremy Corbyn would not be located at the extreme left of the Labour Party, but not far from it.” According to Marlière, it is a mistake to say that Benoît Hamon is on the extreme left: “he is on the left but it took him time to get there. He was initially a ‘Rocardien’, a political current that was the right wing of the Socialist party in the eighties.” Benoît Hamon was François Hollande’s Minister for two years before he left the government and distanced himself from the President’s liberal line.
“Benoît Hamon is on the left but it took him time to get there. He was initially a ‘Rocardien’.”
“Hamon has moved to more left, progressive and ‘societal’ themes (civil liberties) such as gender issues, drugs, the environment, like in the main social-democratic parties. Corbyn is also interested in those issues, but he is not talking about them in the same way. The left-wing Hamon incarnates is much more open, inclusive and modern than Corbyn’s one. Hamon is a fresh air in politics. He is for instance in favour of the basic income, which is not very popular in France, but is in Northern Europe. He has a sophisticated view on work, time and leisure and some may think that it is utopian”, Marlière explains.
Hamon is an “insider”. Corbyn is an “outsider”.
One thing that clearly differentiates them is their connection to their party. Hamon is an “insider”. Corbyn is an “outsider”. “In terms of party management, if Hamon was to become the new leader, he would be a much better leader than Corbyn. This is because he has real support, and you need to be connected to your parliamentary group. Corbyn needs to open up, to reach out to opponents. And people cannot trust him. Hamon would be a much more unifying leader, he has already got the support of the centrists in the party. He doesn’t have the support of the Hollande-Valls allies, but politically that makes sense. If he was too close to them, he would not try to break away from them.”
Hamon and Corbyn do not share the same vision of international relations, and Europe especially. For the lecturer, Jeremy Corbyn “is very British with some tropism, in South America for instance. He has no interest in France, nor in the EU because he would have no possibility of carrying out left-wing policies.” Jeremy Corbyn has had long held Eurosceptic attitudes: he voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975, spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, and voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. When he became the Labour leader, his positions on the Brexit referendum were not clear, but he was pushed by his government to campaign for Remain. Benoît Hamon, on the other hand, campaigned for the Maastricht Treaty. He currently wants reform, but also to stay in the EU. “Apart from a few anecdotal policies, Corbyn and Hamon do not share the same struggles. They might overlap sometimes: both have declared that they would like to recognize the state of Palestine, but that’s it.”