The UMP party, with two official definitions of what the "MP" means (either Mouvement Populaire or Majorite Presidentielle) was founded in November 2002 on the initiative of Jacques Chirac, following his vastly humiliating re-election where he was so unpopular that the second round pitched him, the supposed "Regal President", against the clownesque and bizarre-but-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen of the equally bizarre Front National party. In the first round of voting, Le Pen polled almost as many votes as Chirac. The Parti Socialiste's candidate Lionel Jospin was totally trounced and quit politics.
Chirac reasoned that whoever replaced him, as the next "natural president" of the right, centre-right, liberal centrist, christian democratic - but above all constitutional - political landscape and the parties and movements of this landscape, the UMP would rally the voters. With the right charismatic leaders and plenty of media support, the voters would be funnelled to the ballot boxes and put a cross against the right names from the list of centre-right, liberal bourgeois (or bourgeois liberal), market friendly and similar-type "right parties". To be sure, these right names would only be those Chirac approved.
Chirac believed his disastrous showing in the 2002 presidential election was because his previous party, the RPR or "Rally for the Republic" had drifted too far to the right; it had become an easy target for left-wing and communist, trade unionist, and Front National sniping. The RPR, also created by Chirac but a long while back, in 1976, had exactly the same goals - moving the right of the mid-1970s a little closer to the exact centre, sweep in more centrist votes, and hold back the left, extreme left and extreme right . An early firebrand speechmaker of the RPR was none other than a young amibitious and scheming Nicolas Sarkozy.
Things can be said to have gone wrong for the UMP from that time. When the UMP was founded by Chirac in 2002, Sarkozy refused to join it, and sulked "outside the fence" for a long 2 years, before organizing his own landslide victory in internal UMP voting for party chief, in 2004. After that, Sarkozy sterilized the party, or movement, and made it his "private thing" with figurehead-only chiefs. During the long period from 2004 until now, Sarkozy's own sniping and clean-up operations against Chirac-era party bigwigs inside the UMP undoubtedly sowed a rich future crop of bitter jealousy and rivalry for power inside the party. The Cope-Fillon schism does not date from last week.
Chirac was for nearly all his long career treated as a serial liar by the French - but warmly. This was despite his two-year suspended prison sentence in a 2011 judgement, for contract rigging, fake employment roles for UMP faithfuls but with real salaries inside Chirac's Paris mayoralty system which he ran for nearly 20 years (1976-1995), vote rigging, electoral roll rigging, and other "peches mignons" (unimportant little things). The several unexplained deaths and suspicious suicides of some actors in this nearly 20-year Gotham City playact were par for the game. Today, Chirac is lauded in public opinion polls as one of France's most popular people, close to Yannick Noah, the tax-exile former tennis player, reggae singer and fierce offshore opponent of Nicolas Sarkozy. Before the 2012 presidential election, Chirac bluntly said that he, personally, would be voting for Francois Hollande. His wife Bernadette bluntly said she would vote for anybody but Hollande - meaning Sarkozy.
Chirac's creation of the UMP, from the RPR, only further diluted or to use a modern word "virtualized" the party - even the word "party" can be criticized. Movement is closer to the reality, and the Movement had only one goal when it was formed: get Chirac elected then re-elected. This took an awful long time, in fact nearly 20 years.
After 2005 and the end of Chirac's second and constitutionally impossible to extend second term, the UMP had no further "raison d'exister", it was the empty political cockleshell that Sarkozy used and abused to the limit, and beyond. His most recent one-liner, on the farcical but dangerous implosion of the UMP, following the rigged and ridiculous attempt at an election of a new party chief, opposing Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Cope, was that Fillon "had no existence". Fillon's only existence, according to Sarkozy is that existence Sarkozy had magically conferred on him, when Fillion was, for 5 years, the French prime minister.
Also according to Sarkozy, his "personal friend" Jean-Francois Cope is the same surplus-to-requirements political animal and essentially "does not exist". Through the strange alchemy of French party politics, Sarkozy deliberately distanced Cope from power, and took faithful-but-boring Fillon to be his only prime minister - in fact another surplus role, because Sarkozy openly said he had no need for a prime minister, let alone a government. He was the one-man government, and proud of it. To be sure, this was the start signal for both Fillon and Cope to plan their revenge for the "apres Sarto", when the megalomaniac Sun King would fall from power.
Possibly unknown to Sarko, and certainly dismissed and regally ignored by him, the four-year scheming of Fillon and Cope ran riot in the backwoods and smoke filled rooms of the hollowed out and surplus to requirements UMP. Both built their party machines, with everything planned for what would happen - when Sarko was (of course) comfortably re-elected in the French presidential election of 2012.
The first was that the "only possible candidate", Sarky, was quite heavily beaten. Immediately following this, the parliamentary elections saw a massive defeat for the UMP. In the Senate, the UMP also lost their majority. They had achieved the ultimate losers' hat trick: lose the presidency, lose the parliament and lose the Senate. Inside the UMP, in fact the "two UMPs" of Cope and Fillon, the cause of this - Sarkozy - was always ritually denied, while a desperate attempt, in fact two desperate attempts were made to build a "credible alternate power", either movement or party or system.
More surprises have come since summer 2012 for the rump UMP. Sarkozy, notably, has deliberately cultivated "ambiguous outlooks" as to his return to the fold, as leader, or not. The alternatives include Sarkozy "building on his immense stock of political credibility" through creating his own UMP-2, which is totally unlikely, due to Sarkozy's standing in public opinion being the complete opposite of Chirac. During his 5-year reign, Sarkozy was treated as a serial liar by the French public, but after it he is despised by the same public. The return of Sarkozy to any kind of power is not credible, unless there is a mega crisis.
This has arrived. The UMP party chief election, and its daily recounts by a farcical, corrupt and incompetent "COCOE", the UMP's internal "commission' counting and recounting ballots, losing some, finding some, inventing others has earned itself laughing stock status inside France, and everywhere outside the country. Present hoped-for surprises for the UMP's 195 members of parliament, already fearing for their low-tax jobs and comfortable untaxed parliamentary expenses and assistants' payrolls, all paid by the State, only concern the "return of the man chosen by Providence", that is Alain Juppe.
Himself found guilty of taking kickbacks and sentenced in 2004 to an 18 months suspended jail term and firstly banned from politics for 10 years (but reduced to 1 year on appeal), for "organizing things" for Chirac and for Chirac's UMP, Alain Juppe is now the providential hero of UMP faithful. What he has to do is somehow "restore the party" or movement - but for who?
The surprise is this baleful fact: the UMP has no reason to exist. It was firstly Chirac's baby, then Sarkozy's plaything - but when these two presidents lost power, Sarkozy through a straight and clear popular vote against him and against his UMP, the movement is neither popular nor represents a presidential majority. It represents nothing. This is the uncomfortable reality.
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
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