What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

April 19, 2007

New poll: the French presidential election

With just a few days to go before the French presidential election’s first round, time for a couple of new polls, I think.

The first tests your political philosophy: who do you want to win?

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Who would you vote for in the French presidential election?
François Bayrou Ségolène Royal Nicolas Sarkozy

The second tests your political realism: who do you think actually will win?

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Who do you think will win the French presidential election?
François Bayrou Ségolène Royal Nicolas Sarkozy

My answer to both questions? Nicolas Sarkozy, faute de mieux. None of the candidates has inspired.


Ségolène Royal, whose ballsy campaign to win the Socialist nomination has given way to a lightweight campaign entirely lacking in cojones - let alone any coherent policy proposals - deserves to be eliminated. Should France wake up to her first female President on 6th May, the nation can look forward to continuing economic and political torpor.

Ms Royal’s only redeeming feature is her unfashionable support for Turkish inclusion within the European Union. As Chris Patten has noted:
The reconciliation of France and Germany was the necessary and admirable European accomplishment of the twentieth century; reconciling the West and the Islamic world, with Europe acting as a hinge between the two, is a major task for the twenty-first.
Not Quite the Diplomat (2005), p.144
François Bayrou has achieved a quite remarkable political turnaround, from undistinguished former education minister to shock Presidential challenger - even if much of his rise can be ascribed as a crushing indictment of Ms Royal’s lacklustre efforts. Some of his programme appeals - for example, his robust pledge to cut public debt - but his opposition to Turkish EU membership, muddled economic protectionism, and enthusiasm for a revived EU constitution rule him out of contention for me.

Nor am I convinced that his pledge to unite the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of France is a slogan that would stand up to scrutiny for even 24 hours if he found himself a resident of the Palais de l'Élysée. As leader of the UFD party, he controls just 27 of the National Assembly’s 577 seats. Great admirer of Roy Jenkins though I am, if he had proposed in 1983 that, as leader of the the SDP/Liberal Alliance’s 23 MPs, he was in a position to unite Margaret Thatcher’s Tories and Michael Foot’s Labour party many would have regarded him as a tad naïve. I’m all for pragmatism and cross-party working: I think Mr Bayrou’s presidency would result in a soggy melange.

Which leaves me with Mr Sarkozy. He is very far from ideal. He has shown a willingness to court Jean-Marie Le Pen’s supporters, glorying in social authoritarianism, and displaying a nativism bordering on the unpleasant, including an unswerving opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. There are two factors in Mr Sarkozy’s favour, and they’re enough to swing it for me.

First, he accepts and understands the need for France’s economy to liberalise. Though he has, perhaps understandably, soft-peddled during the campaign, his promise of rupture is both bold and correct, signalling an end to the 35-hour week, reductions in personal and corporate taxation, and beginning the essential task of setting France’s universities free of stifling state control.

Secondly, he appears sufficiently resolute to stick to his prescription. I’m not keen on the notion of the ‘smack of firm leadership’, but, after 26 years of drift and fudge, France may just be ready for a politician prepared to lead from the front, rather than the back.

I have, by the way, excluded Mr Le Pen from both polls, and this analysis. Nothing to do with political correctness, everything to do with political probability. If they get through to the second round it’s possible to imagine any one of Mr Bayrou, Ms Royal or Mr Sarkozy triumphing: Mr Le Pen is nothing more than a spoiler candidate for those parts of the French electorate which wish to find scapegoats more than solutions.

7 comments:

simon said...

On to something more interesting than the French presidential election, what is this about a LibDem cllr nominating a BNP candidate for the upcoming council elections!?! I know the LDems are scurrilous and a bunch of odd-balls but this takes the proverbial biscuit. Surely this half-wit should be dismissed from the LDems ASAP?

Tristan said...

I agree with you, none of the candidates are particularly good, but Sarkozy wins because of his economic stance.

France desperately needs liberalisation. The left may sometimes be socially liberal, but that's no good if you don't have economic liberalisation as well.

Also, for our interests in Europe, Sarkozy is the only one who may start a move towards liberalisation in France and the EU before it all goes down the pan...

They really need a more liberal Thatcher, someone who can rip them out of their socialist malaise, but also has a liberal approach to society and individual freedom and a non-nationalist view.
In the absence of a real liberal candidate, Sarkozy is the best of the bunch...

Stephen Tall said...

Simon - according to today's Grauniad, "Mr Jones told Darlington Lib Dems he thought Daniel Brown was an independent candidate for North Road ward, which must elect three councillors." In any case, your comment's already out of date: support for his candidacy has been withdrawn by the Lib Dems.

agentmancuso said...

I think you dismiss Bayrou too quickly. The comparison with Jenkins c.1983 fails to take into account the powerful attraction -in theory at least -that unity governments have in France.

He also made a point of saying that it was not the state's role to guarantee employment. Which is heresy to French ears, frankly.

Edis said...

Bayrou also came out against the tacky flagwaving of both Royal and Sarko and promised not to allow the Front National delusion invade his mind. He has my virtual and useless vote in this round.

Sarko is just too dangerously unstable... and paradoxically Royal would be in a better position than Sarko actually to carry out certain so-called liberalisations. So if Bayrou is not in the second round, Id vote for her.

Tom Papworth said...

Well, I'm playing my cards close to my chest and launching the far more interesting 2nd Round poll.

After all, Bayrou was always going to appeal to Lib Dems, even if he was in practice going to usher in another five years of uninspiring collaboration or spectacularly fail to get any support at all.

But given the choice between a French Thatcher and a throw-back to when Foot and Benn ran the Labour party, what do Lib Dems REALLY want?

My poll is at http://liberalpolemic.blogspot.com/2007/04/poll-who-would-you-choose-in-second.html

Tom Papworth said...

Oh. I think you should have included Le Pen in the first poll, btw.

I'm guessing your blog is mostly read by Lib Dems, and it's always worth seeing whether something nasty might crawl out of the woodwork.