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French Presidential election about as tough to call as they come

Posted on 27 April 2011 | 3:04pm

Just back from a couple of interesting days in Paris, speaking to politicians, strategists, analysts, Terra Nova thinktankers, journalists and bloggers about the 2012 Presidential elections.

I met a lot of people who said that President Sarkozy was so unpopular, so low in the polls (about which the French media and political classes are obsessed) that there was no way he could win a second term. Yet a lot of these same people would say, sometimes in the next sentence, that they thought he still might win. So a clear picture it is not.

Of course it is hard to get a proper fix on things when one of the main contenders, the candidate of the left, exists at the moment only as a question mark. Will it be Dominique Strauss-Kahn, currently at the IMF but widely expected to put his name forward in the new Primaries process to select a Parti Socialiste standard-bearer? If he does, Martine Aubry almost certainly will not stand. But will Francois Hollande?Will Segolene Royal fancy another go?

On verra. The general consensus seems to be Strauss-Kahn or Hollande, probably the former. The one thing I did emphasise, privately and publicly, is that once the candidate is chosen, everyone else needs to get behind that candidate. There is something very French about the way they have huge debates, ‘bring them to an end’ with a vote, and then restart the debate immediately. It is one of the reasons Sarkozy is in a bit of bother. He was elected on a clear promise to make major reforms. Once he was elected, and started to bring them in, it was as though the voters suddenly said ‘hold on a minute, not THOSE reforms.’

Compare and contrast with the UK, a two-party government that is doing things that were not in the manifesto of either of them, and yet seemingly getting away with (quite a lot of) it.

I lived in France for a year more than 30 years ago, and I can remember back them thinking that the Parti Socialiste seemed to spend a lot of time just arguing amongst themselves, without much regard for the impact on the public. That impression has endured, and so have many of the people who were arguing. They really do need to make an effort at unity and agreement on policy, theme and message once the campaign proper kicks off.

Sarkozy really does arouse a lot of negative comment. But he will not have lost all the campaigning skills he showed to become President in the first place. Incumbency is a powerful thing, and a Comeback story is a powerful narrative, and one that Sarkoky will be planning on shaping. If the gossip is to be believed, it seems a baby will be playing a part in that too.

Then there is the Front National, whose leader Marine Le Pen has gone from around 10 per cent in the polls to nearer to 20 in pretty short order. That is probably the peak, but supporters of both Sarkozy and of the left have occasional quiet moments worrying that their man might be eliminated in the first round, so that the second round becomes a run off between Le Pen and the eventual winner.

Just as David Cameron sought to ‘decontaminate the Tory brand’ – I’m not sure his ‘calm down dear’ remarks to Angela Eagle in the Commons today were terribly helpful in this regard – she has been working hard to detoxify the Front National brand. The fact that even her opponents seem to call her ‘Marine’ rather than the rather more toxic ‘Le Pen’ suggests she has been having some success, though I don’t join those who say she is a great communicator.

So all to play for, and a really interesting, if somewhat grungy and pessimistic mood in country and in its politics.

I did a few interviews and have put up a couple here and here . Both were with Melissa Bell of France 24, the first in French, the second in English. My French held up pretty well. Hers is flawless. Her Mum is French, her Dad is Martin Bell, ex journalist who became the anti-sleaze candidate in Tatton against Neil Hamilton in 1997 when we and the Lib Dems withdrew our candidates. Happy days!

voila … je sors maintenant faire un peu de velo avant le match Real-Barca … bonsoir a tous et a toutes. (Apologies for lack of accents … mon ordinateur ne parle pas francais)

  • Richard

    Whilst you were away the news broke that TB is not invited to THE WEDDING.

    Mugabe’s rep in London: yes, TB:No.

    This is unbelieveable. I am a royalist, but whoever allowed/advised them should be banished. TB’s place in the timeline of British history is assured, love him or loathe him. When you see the ijit celebs strutting their stuff on Friday, the insult will be complete.

    Five minute man Major: yes, TB: No.

    I disagree with much that he did but cannot stand by and see such injustice. It has dragged Royalty into the dirt.

    I am also surprised that the Coalition did not do something about it.

    • Gillian C.

      @ Richard – Very well said. I’m taking your comments as genuine and sincere. But I have to say I’m very surprised. Actually there has been a bit of a “ding dong” going on, on the Telegraph blogs today about this very subject. I have to say that commenters on there are not nearly as polite as they are on AC’s blog site. I guess that’s to do with the moderation time on this site. Anyhow, I think it’s disgraceful that neither TB nor GB have been invited to the wedding. It makes the royal family look petty and as someone on the Telegraph site said, it could set a precedent with all sorts of ramifications.
      I’ve re-read your comments Richard and I think you may just be having a “laugh” as they say these days. If they are genuine then I wouldn’t hesitate to apologize.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Peter Mandelson recently wrote in the Guardian that Cameron and Osborne want to give an impression that only the Tories could be trusted with the economy. They want associate Labour in the public mind with economic irresponsibility.
    David Cameron claimed at today´s PMQs that there had been growth in Britain´s economy during the Q1. This is not true. Once again the PM has been economical with truth.
    Yes, the ONS announced 0.5% “growth” for Q1. (OBR forecast was 0.8%.)
    But as the chief economist of PricewaterhouseCoopers said in the Telegraph, Britain is on the edge of double dip recession. In reality there has been NO underlying growth in output.
    According to Vicky Redwood of Capital Economics “if there was some temporary catch-up of output lost in Q4, then underlying growth may even have been slightly NEGATIVE”.
    Yet the economically illiterate Tory-led government calls all this “good news”.
    George Osborne has killed Britain´s growth with his reckless gamble. Now the economy is so weak that it cannot withstand the planned cuts. Needless to say that Mr Osborne will stick with his austerity plan of £110bn regardless of economic and social cost.
    Growth of at least 1% was needed. 1.7% would have shown that the economy is back on track.
    Before Mr Osborne took over, OBR was forecasting growth of 2.6% for 2011.
    During the previous six months economy grew 1.8%. Now the growth for the six months is ZERO!
    In order to work, Osborne´s plan needs annual growth of over 3%.
    Mr Osborne´s target reduction to £122bn borrowing in 2011/12 is based on GDP growth of 1.7%. This will not be achieved now.
    Overall Mr Osborne is being forced to borrow £45bn more than expected.
    The Tory-led government is not delivering the growth Britain needs. And as Ed Balls has stated, it is not wrong kind of snow – it is wrong kind of politics.
    Due to government policies household indebtedness will rise from 160% of disposable income to record 175%, or £2.1tr, by 2015. So much for the “rebalancing” of the economy.
    Britain is as close to recession as it can be as the underlying growth rate is zero.
    Any sensible chancellor would now go for a plan B. But Mr Osborne is blinded by his ideological zeal, and will not change the course until it is too late.
    This will all end in tears. And George Osborne cannot say that he has not been warned.

    Ps. A bit off the subject, but I felt that the truth about “growth” should be told.

  • Ehtch

    Once was sent to work several times to service equipment at an microelectronic engineering company based in Lannion in Brittany, and worked with engineers from all over France. But blimey, sitting at the bar at night with them, they discussed everything and anything, and I mean anything. Debate city it was. Not quite your “keep it under your hat” politeness of an average club or pub at the bar in this country.

    That is what I like about France, they discuss, until the cows come home.

  • Ehtch

    Yes, unbelievable that is, neither Blair nor Brown. Very, very strange. Do they want half the country to become republicans? As a bit of a royalist too, that has really disturbed me.

  • Pam

    Did you write this little rant Alastair on the way back from Paris.

    • Gillian C.

      @ Pam

      Where would we be without your deeply insightful pearls of widom?
      I for one stand in awe at your huge intellect!

  • Plaingoldband

    Not agreeing or disagreeing, but I would like to point out that John Major was invited because he was appointed guardian to the two princes following the death of their mother in 97…

    • Ehtch

      I would like to point out that Blair and Brown was looking after sixty million people, including two Princes, and Ma’am herself, too.

      Beggars belief it does.

  • Steve

    You can use french accents on your English keyboard at: http://www.lexilogos.com/clavier/francais.htm
    Steve

  • Gillian C.

    AC, regarding Cameron’s remarks to Angela Eagle during PMQ’s today, I suppose it was a little patronizing, but if Labour seek to make political capital out of it I believe it would be a big mistake and just make them appear humourless and desperate. But the point I really wanted to make is that the more confident and assured Cameron becomes as PM the more arrogant he becomes also and he is saying things he would never have said just a few months’ ago. One day soon he is going to go too far and say something inappropriate that will really let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He is not the consummate politician he would like us think he is. His arrogance and unguarded remarks will let him down eventually. The heir to Blair he certainly is not.

  • Dave Simons

    Sorry, which wedding was that?

  • Richard

    You political spinners and hangers on have no sincerity, just following the Party line. Over the last year your tribal myopic intollerance towards all things coalition has been shameful.

    However, some of us call it as we see it, and being a member of no Party, do not follow the line sheep-like.

    The above issue te Blair remains a scandal.

  • Richard

    You political spinners and hangers on have no sincerity, just following the Party line. Over the last year your tribal myopic intollerance towards all things coalition has been shameful.

    However, some of us call it as we see it, and being a member of no Party, do not follow the line sheep-like.

    The above issue te Blair remains a scandal.

  • Dave Simons

    Hold on – once is enough! Surely there’s nothing shameful about expressing honest opinions? I’m not sure that there is a ‘Party line’ or ever has been in such a broad church as the Labour Party. I am sure no-one on this blog is following it, if it exists – Gillie especially. I think you probably invented it and simplified it so that you could criticise it. You should be a bit more self-critical, as the self-image you try to project – ”some of us call it as we see it’ – must sound as hilarious to anyone reading it as it does to me, given your track record.of insults – ‘political spinners’ (weren’t they a folk group?),hangers on’ and ‘sheep-like’ being just the latest.
    When the Coalition does something right I’ll back it. Until then I’ll be critical of it, as is my democratic right. There’s no tribal, myopic intolerance to it – that’s just what you want to believe to justify your own, obviously-insecure position. Just try arguing your point for a change.

  • Gilliebc

    What the hell are you talking about?
    For your information “Mr. Grumpy” I have never been a member of any political party. There is nothing sheep-like about me I can assure you.
    If you took the trouble to read my comments properly you would know this. Occasionly I even agree and “like” some of your comments. So what you’ve said in your reply to me makes no sense whatsoever.
    Either you are not very observant or you have a very poor memory. You should wake-up properly and engage brain before posting (twice).

  • Gilliebc

    That would be Bill and Cath’s Wedding I think 🙂

  • Gilliebc

    Eloquently put, as ever Dave. You are quite right when you say that no-one on this blog follows the so-called Party-line, if indeed it does exist.
    Thank you Dave for noticing that I do not do what Richard unjustifyfiably accused me of. That remark of Richard’s “some of us call it as we see it”
    I didn’t think anyone (normal) would seriously say this. I think the quite unprovoked insults this man has come out with just recently says more about him than it does about his unsuspecting and innocent “targets”

    Anyhow, putting “ol’ dick-head” to one side. The weather here today in Devon is glorious, hope it is the same where you are Dave, somewhere in the midlands or maybe the north of England, perhaps? You don’t have to say where you are of course, but it’s quite nice to know it adds to the picture somehow. e.g. Sarah D is in Lincolnshire.
    Today I’m feeling very happy and relieved because my little grandson is finally beginning to recover from a “Norro virus infection” which ruined his Easter hols. He is nearly 6 years old and I’ve never seen a little boy in so much pain. It was awful for him. I hadn’t realised these one-time hospital bugs which are now also in the community were so painful. But, thankfully he’s on the mend now. Tomorrow, I shall mostly be watching the wedding! So I’m well happy. Sorry Dave, I didn’t intend to prattle-on as I have.

  • Gilliebc

    @ Dave Simons

    Earlier I posted a reply to your very well argued comments to Richard.
    But for some reason Disqus hasn’t recognised it as such. It is on this page, free-standing, so to speak! But it is deffo. for you and to you.

  • Richard

    “I think you may just be having a “laugh” as they say these days. If they are genuine then I wouldn’t hesitate to apologize.”
    I reacted to this comment with hostility as Ed and his followers seem to want to expunge Blair from the records. As politicians the latest crop are pygmies as compared to Blair.

    Not much defending of him on this Blog either.

  • Richard

    Give us a list of the costed cuts which you would have implemented with effect from April 2011 then, in order to reduce the current account deficit by £40 million.

  • Dave Simons

    Thank you Gillie. Glad to hear your grandson is getting better after a painful spell.
    I’m in the north midlands, former border between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia, next to the Peak District, which is where I hope to be tomorrow. It’s a bit cool and cloudy at the moment up here. I was last in Devon in 2009 – Tarr Steps, Lynton, Lynmouth, Valley of the Rocks, Doone Valley, etc.

  • Gilliebc

    Wow, lovely part of the country. The Peak District is quite beautiful. I’m more than a little envious. Devon is nice but it’s either dead in winter or overcrowded in summer. Hope you have a good day tomorrow and the weather stays reasonable for all of us. We went to the Doone Valley once and completely missed the little church. And I think I must be one of a few people who walked down Princes Street in Edinbrugh and forgot to look at the castle! Story of my life. Hopefully, I’ll get it right “next-time”
    Happy Walking,
    Gillie

  • Pam

    Go away Mr. Olli.

    We are very happy at the moment…..what with the weather and the Royal Wedding.

    We don’ want your depressing drivel about the Tory led coalition.

    Blair and Brown aren’t going to the wedding and neither are you!

    Deal with it!

  • Pam

    I can’t help it if you are in love with Alastair.

  • Dave Simons

    Now I see your problem! You think I’m the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his team of economic ‘experts’ busily working in the shadows while he smiles smugly in the House of Commons and gets all the kudos for something that’s well beyond his comprehension.
    OK then, here goes.

    Introduce a land tax. Squeeze the Duke of Westminster and his ilk till the pips squeak. The grouse and pheasants will be delighted!
    Reclaim all the tax which the rich have both avoided and evaded. No more hiding behind ‘Chatsworth Estates’ – Mr Cavendish, if you please (and cough up).
    Abolish Trident and other military fantasies. Give Trident defenders a computer game to play with.
    Abolish the institution of monarchy – again.
    Abolish bank bonuses and bonus culture. Let gamblers gamble with their own money.
    Stop chucking public money away on rubbish like royal weddings. They tell me that has some relevance at present.

    According to my calculator that should not only wipe out the current account deficit of £40 million, if we can take your figure on trust, but it should put us well into the black. I”d even feel confident enough to stand you a round, pal.

  • Gilliebc

    Good to know you have a sense of humour Pam 🙂

  • Richard

    Sorry, what figures did your calculator yield?

    Your pedigree is showing, born by malice out of envy.

    Well done. With the exception of your Trident savings everything else would save pennies in the grand scheme of things, assuming you are not advocating dispossession of all assets of anybody who has more assets than you, which I suspect is the case.

  • Dave Simons

    Does my pedigree qualify me for a free hand-out of dog food, chum?

  • Ehtch

    I’m more of a whiskers man myself. At least cats can look after themselves, if they have to. Keeps the rats down too, which is nice.

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