The Independent is running an article on Segolene Royal's recent participative debate in Grenoble, France. Their conclusion is that while much of what Royal herself says is platitudes, her charisma still leaves the audience in her hand.
In a hall in which ice-skaters leapt and pirouetted in the 1968 winter Olympics, Ségolène Royal is fighting for her political life. She is sitting in the audience and taking notes.
Speaker after speaker, all young, some eloquent, some hardly audible, some near-hysterical, take the microphone. Ségolène calmly takes notes. The young people analyse, sometimes cleverly, the reasons why France, especially young France, is alienated from mainstream politics. For almost two hours, Ségolène says little and takes notes. This is, depending on your viewpoint, a foolish gimmick, an absurd evening of "political karaoke", or the brilliant strategy which will defy the opinion polls and make the Socialist Mme Royal France's first female president in May.
In theory, all the ideas and comments from the 5,000 "listening" meetings, and the internet sites, will be distilled into Mme Royal's programme of specific proposals, due to be unveiled from 11 February. Conventional Socialist campaigners complain that this is too late.
One problem the article mentions is that all of these speakers are not any old fresh faced French citizen in search of solutions, but longtime party supporters and activists. According to the article, Royal gave the audience both generalizations and super-specific pledges, including free driving lessons for youths who achieve academically and free female contraception for those under 25.
hérèse Oriol, a 70-year-old retired, psychiatric nurse, said: "I have seen all the Socialist leaders here. I saw François Mitterrand twice. Now there was an orator. He was like a poet. But times move on. Ségolène is right to let the people speak. It feels more modern, less bossy. It makes people feel close to her."
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