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