The first tests your political philosophy: who do you want to win?
The second tests your political realism: who do you think actually will win?
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.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.Not Quite the Diplomat (2005), p.144
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.