Life: Left of Centre

What next for France? Rise of the Right, but Hollande wins

Posted on: April 28, 2012

So what can the Left read into last weekend’s 1st round French Presidential poll results? Well quite a bit actually. Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, won with 28.6% of the vote, out-doing even the positive exit polls that flashed across our screens early Sunday evening. Current President Nicolas Sarkozy came a close second, with 27.2%, but second at this stage of the contest is nowhere. The biggest surprise was perhaps the performance of Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, with 17.9% of the vote. But was it really a shock? Has French politics shifted to the right? How will the run-off between Hollande and Sarkozy play-out on 6th May? Read on for more!

Le Pen won £6.5 million votes last weekend. It’s stating the obvious, but that’s a lot – only several million behind the winner Hollande. Make no bones about it, the French are fed up. Like Britain, they’re done with ‘politics as usual’ and the same old elites running French politics. Of course it doesn’t help that Sarkozy’s right wing UMP Party has been in power, at least in Presidential terms, for the last 20 years. His brand of ‘personality politics’ has gotten old quickly,when taken alongside a backdrop of a worsening economy, the Eurozone crisis and growing unemployment. Many have chosen not to reach out to the Left, but rather another option. Perhaps, in many ways, the ‘nuclear option’ – the NF, headed by Le Pen.

Does that mean that millions of French people are racist, far right loons? No, it doesn’t. That would be far too simplistic an analysis. Many of them are disaffected voters, left behind by Sarkozy and his disappointing reign. His callous lack of regard for people left unemployed, ravaged my a perceived pervasive globalisation that has left them behind. Hollande has had no clear answer to this. Le Pen represents the ‘acceptable face’, a modern version of the Far Right, that has supposedly shed its baggage, even appointing a  woman as leader. How long will the French buy that for? Difficult to say. While unemployment remains high and immigration high up the political agenda – after all during a recession and its recovery (especially one so widespread and deep as this) people reach for anything and anyone to blame – the trajectory looks worryingly upward.

But this has a somewhat bizarre impact on next Sunday’s run-off. Currently only half of Le Pen supporters would consider voting for Sarkozy as their second preference. 1 in 4 will back Hollande, and the rest simply won’t cast their vote. The NF leadership is fiercely independent and keen to dista itself from a weakened government. They also have their eyes set on a power-broker style role after the dust has settled. A chance to recast the debate on the Right the prize that they are eyeing. So where does that leave Hollande? Well all the polls have been showing between an 8 and 12 point lead for the Socialist challenger, and with a frosty relationship between Sarkozy and Le Pen only cooling further since the first round results were announced, bar any unforeseeable events, Mr Hollande will be climbing the steps of the Elysee Palace and making himself at home a week on Monday. As his campaign slogan goes, the change is now.


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