Desir is new party leader

Socialists set to choose veteran anti-racist campaigner as first black leader after weeks of wrangling

12 September 2012
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EURO-MP Harlem Desir, a former leader of the anti-racism group SOS Racisme, will be the new leader of the Parti Socialiste and is set to be the first black leader of a major European political party.

He was named the favoured candidate after protracted wrangling between outgoing first secretary Martine Aubry, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and other activists who all wanted to pull the party in different directions.

Party militants are deeply unhappy with President Hollande's plans for major budget cuts and 52-year-old Desir is seen as a "safe pair of hands" to cope with dissent. He has still to be voted in to the post, in an election during the party conference at the end of next month.

Although he was Aubry's deputy in the job he was not her choice for leader: she preferred Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a close confidant of disgraced former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He has been made vice-president of the European wing of the party.

Desir's father was from Martinique and he was born in Paris in 1959 and named Jean-Philippe, but later changed it to Harlem. He was the first president of SOS Racisme between 1984 and 1992 as it campaigned against the far-right Front National and news of his appointment was greeted by FN vice-president Louis Aliot, who labelled him an "ex-convict".

Desir was sentenced to a 18-month suspended prison term after being found guilty of taking an illegal payment from an immigrant training firm. His party rival Cambadelis had also been convicted of financial misconduct over a fake job with an immigrant housing agency.

However, although Desir is following in the footsteps of President François Mitterrand, former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Hollande as leader of the party he is not seen by commentators as a likely future president. He has been a Euro-MP since 1999.

Aubry said on Europe 1 this morning that she will step down from office "at the end of this week" and Desir will take over, as her deputy. She said the party was "in good hands".
Photo: IxAdvisoryTalents

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