A note of caution for Labour on François Hollande’s lead

by Atul Hatwal

What’s that? A left-wing party doing well? Sacre bleu!

The response on the centre-left to François Hollande’s lead in the first round of the French presidential election has been a mix of excitement and hopeful expectation.  Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers Union tweeted last night “Socialism is on the agenda, via La France”.

Lessons are already being learnt and precedents noted for Labour’s own strategy for victory in 2015.

But some caution would be advised.

France is not Britain and in amidst the understandable optimism there are some fairly serious reasons to be reticent about reading too much into a Hollande lead for Labour.

Three in particular stand out: Sarkozy’s perceived responsibility for the crash; his conduct in office and the narrowness of Hollande’s first round lead.

First, Nicolas Sarkozy is one of the few remaining leaders in office whose tenure pre-dates the crash of 2008. Gordon Brown, Silvio Berlusconi and Luis Zapatero are all gone. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case, in the eyes of his electorate, Sarkozy will bear some culpability for the disaster.

From the major European nations, only Angela Merkel has retained office following the crash and it’s no coincidence that her survival has been secured as Germany has avoided the worst ravages of austerity.

The electoral gravity on this issue weighs against Labour and at the next general election David Cameron will still be reminding the public that the crash happened on a Labour government’s watch.

Second, Sarkozy is partially being punished for not being monarchical enough. The French take the ceremonial solemnity of the office of president very seriously and his conduct in the office is deemed by many to have been sufficiently unbecoming.

There is no natural read across to Labour’s experience on this, not unless David Cameron divorces his wife and shacks up with Adele.

Third, Hollande hasn’t won yet. His lead following the first round is actually quite narrow – less than 2% – and after all of Sarkozy’s errors and problems, he still achieved a vote of 27% that was at the upper end of his polling projections.

Given the pool of votes on the right that is potentially available to Sarkozy following the unprecedented Front National showing, this race is far from over.

The question that should be being asked within the socialist camp is why wasn’t Hollande’s lead larger? Why did so many millions of voters who were clearly sick of Sarkozy not feel that they could support the centre left candidate?

So before too many in Labour learn the wrong lessons on declaring world finance as our “true enemy” or advocating a 75% top rate of tax, it would be just as well to pause and look again at the reality of the result.

Yes, it is positive that the Socialists are in the lead and yes there is a good chance François Hollande will become president, but this will be less because of his platform and more because, as with most elections, the incumbent will have lost it.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut

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7 Responses to “A note of caution for Labour on François Hollande’s lead”

  1. Nick says:

    The French rich know too well how their governments have operated. They have always planned to protect themselves against a government that regularly defaults. e.g 1934, as well as penal taxation.

    So 75% won’t get the money from those who earn a lot. To pay for it Hollande will have to target the middle class. Like the UK is.

    What does that mean? Will he or won’t he go on the promised spending splurge?

    If it does, its game over for the Euro, and the EU.

  2. swatantra says:

    Socialism has not quite won yet, but the signs are quite encouraging.
    The Left is even more divided in France than over here, and the communists seem to be more popular over there than here.
    Why they do it in two stages I don’t know. Haven’t they heard of PR?
    Get it over and done with before the People change their minds. is my motto.
    2 weeks is an awful long time in politics. And we still don’t know how the facists got their votes; some made up from from nazis, some from disillusioned working class socialists like we have here and some and some by liberasl tactical voting. And you can never rely on the communists to support Hollande, because they always do their own thing. So its all so uncertain.
    But 2 good things
    1 Voting weekends is a plus; we should try it here
    2 A constituency for expats; we should try it and lump all the expats falkland islanders gibraltans and colonials into one constituency. Let them send an MP to Westminster and see how they like it.
    If by the grace of god Hollande gets elected, then its a victory for geeks. Kevin Rudd led the way in Oz. And if Hollande had any sense then he would make Segolene Royale his PM. She deserves a bit of luck after falling to Sarko last time round. And Sego would bring a touch of glamour into European politics, what with only Angela and Christine Legard and a host of men just dominating the scene.

  3. william says:

    France,post de Gaulle,has turned out to be a left leaning country by nature,whereas ,post 1951 in the UK Labour has been the exception,rather than the rule.Just pray that by 2015 nobody remembers Gordon Brown.

  4. Neeraj says:

    The reasons Sarkozy’s decline hasn’t translated into a large margin for Hollande are twofold:
    Firstly, Hollande’s personal lack of credibility for various reasons (relationship with Royal, manufactured image etc.).
    Secondly, and more importantly, the unbelievable rise of the far right, who have never won such a high percentage of the vote – 18%.

    This party is somewhere to the right of the BNP. Admittedly the far right have always had a far larger part in French politics than in the UK, but to see them winning 2mn more votes than typical is beyond worrying. Does the BNP have the same capacity? Definitely not on the same scale. However they grew their vote share by almost 0.4mn in the last election, what are we going to see in 2015?

    I think Hollande’s war against finance has helped his cause. People turn to the extremes when they don’t see a candidate with their own values. The French are just as furious as the British at the financial world, and the FN might have won an even higher vote share if Hollande hadn’t been belligerent. As it is, they gained more than enough support from anti-immigration pressures, and the next two weeks will show Hollande & Sarkozy both veer to the right to win those votes back.

    I think that Labour should view the French first round as a reminder of the danger of not appearing a credible alternative: a second reminder, following on the footsteps of the Bradford by-election…

  5. Ray_North says:

    I agree with this.
    On another note – those who are interested in the French Presidential Election will be interested in this psephological piece that appeared on the following website analysing the facts and figures from the first round.
    Follow the link:

  6. Ray_North says:

    On another note – those who are interested in the French Presidential Election will be interested in this psephological piece that appeared on the following website analysing the facts and figures from the first round.
    Follow the link:

  7. Stephen G. says:

    The question to be asked is not “why wasn’t Hollande’s lead larger?” but why did the anti-establishment vote (despite their incompatibility I include the left and right in one block) amount to nearly 30% of the electorate?

    When approximately one in three of the electorate have relinquished their attachment to ‘business as usual’ then we can expect some very unsettling outcomes.

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