THE OBSERVER

Devoured by ambition

The electoral race for Barcelona is getting interesting just when the city needs it most

Manuel Valls has always played hardball, at everything, and this time will be no different. While he has never lacked the attributes of determination and ambition, in the last few years he has become possessed by them to the point of ruining his political career in France and guiding him to Barcelona.

In the last six years Manuel Valls has gone from being everything in French politics to losing everything. Mayor of Évry, member of parliament, Minister of the Interior and Prime Minister under Hollande, when a state of emergency was declared following the jihadist attacks in November 2017. Valls has extraordinary political experience, is an accomplished speaker, and he vehemently argued positions that began in the vicinity of Michel Rocard's non-dogmatic socialist left and have ended up in no-man's land. He even flirted with what the French call “LePen-ization of the spirit”. That is, bringing the extreme right's issues and outlook on immigration and security into mainstream discourse.

Loves a fight

Politics has always given meaning to his life and Valls loves a fight. In battle he becomes brave, sharpens his teeth, tenses his jaw, and focuses his gaze. Valls is convinced that he is always right and, moreover, that the world owes him recognition for his brilliant and permanent public contribution.

A victim of his temperament, Manuel Valls, the political son of Rocard, got lost definitively at Matignon, the residence of the prime minister, in the blind fight to occupy Hollande's place in the Élysée Palace and was rattled by the presence of Emmanuel Macron, a banker whom he despised and who dared to challenge him in the succession race. Valls called him "le microbe" and "le macaron" and when he was wearing a beard, “le jihadiste", as Gaspar Gantzer explains in Politics is a combat sport.

In December 2016 Valls announced he was stepping down to run for president of France, but lost the primary to the left wing of the socialist party. In a gesture that would prove costly, and would turn him in the eyes of French public opinion into an opportunist par excellence, a man without word or loyalty, and a political pariah, he publicly supported Emmanuel Macron once he had lost to Benoît Hamon in the party primary. The gesture was not appreciated by Macron and today Valls is a low-level LRM (La République en Marche) MP in the National Assembly, after giving up on the idea of creating an independent group. He is a phantom representative who shows up for only one third of the sessions.

But Valls is always reborn and re-enters the arena. Cold and calculating and with a strong personality, in an interview in Le Monde published a year ago he defined himself as "hermetic" and added: "It's not that I'm a superman. I have learned to sit out these difficult periods. These are moments when you need to be an observer of what is happening. If you experience it as a personal thing, it becomes hell." And after a silence he concluded: "I carry incredible strength within me."

Since in France he is politically alone —and it is not a solitude respected for its coherence but an isolation expressed in the crudest way in the political and social framework— Valls turned his gaze towards the city where he was born and thanks to which he has a public focus again and can be in the limelight. When he became a French national at age 18 he swore "to give everything for France" and now he will swear by Spain and Barcelona, hand in hand with Ciudadanos and the PP.

The presence of Manuel Valls changes the municipal scenario. He is an intelligent, frightening opponent, but ERC's response will not make things easy for him. The decision by Ernest Maragall [to head the ERC slate], at a time when even Jordi Pujol’s followers praise the work his brother Pasqual Maragall did as mayor, is important for ERC and a clear gesture that a joint [pro-independence] list is not an option given the state of relations with their partners. It remains to be seen now who the PDECat candidate will be, as neither Neus Munté nor Ferran Mascarell seem to be Carles Puigdemont's choice; equally unknown is the role to be played by another outsider, Jordi Graupera.

Infatuation

The presence of Valls, who has never lived in Barcelona, is inspired and financed by the intensely partisan bourgeoisie who support the unity of Spain, and who are infatuated by the savior come from afar. They receive him in their halls and also in Minorca, where the candidate arrives in his high-end convertible, and they prepare meetings for him in hotel rooms hosted by [unionist group] Societat Civil Catalana (Catalan Civil Society). It is a bourgeoisie with a provincial mentality, unable to understand what Catalonia’s sovereignty movement is about.

The electoral race for Barcelona city is getting interesting just when the city needs it most. Barcelona has lost its aura and needs medium and long-term policies to bring back its internal energy, creativity, and innovation, to manage the consequences of tourism, and to make it inhabitable and clean. And for local residents to afford the rent of their flat.

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