The biggest news story of the weekend was the resurgence of left-wing politics in Europe.
Okay, this is a slight over-exaggeration. I’m a bit too excited – I haven’t blogged in a while.
But François Hollande’s victory in the first round of the presidential election in France is a huge boost to the waning left-wing politicians who are coming to be termed as the “Old guard” of Europe. Right-wing policies on economics and immigration seem to be at the tip of a far deeper ideological battle taking place across the continent. But that’s the subject for a (very long, detailed, jargon-filled) feature another day.
Following Strauss-Kahn’s infamous arrest in New York, Hollande began to mount a serious challenge for the Socialist candidate for presidency. He underwent a tactical image makeover in order to sell himself to the French public. Image is definitely everything in modern politics – our very own Gordon Brown knows this all too well. His paternalistic manner was intentionally pronounced. The frame-less glasses, clean-shaven, sharp-suit look wasn’t by accident. And it’s definitely worked.
Whilst Hollande’s lead is only slight – 28.6% to Sarkozy’s 27.1% – he is in a far better position than his centre-right counterpart. As the election results prove, there is a sense of strong national unity on the left. The only other serious left-wing challenge came from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who achieved a mere 11.1%. Whilst his voters are almost certainly going to back Hollande in the final two-horse race on the 6th May, the same cannot be said for France’s right-wing. Marine Le Penn, leader of the far-right National Front, did much better in Sunday’s election that polls had predicted, winning 18% of the vote. Disillusioned with unemployment at a 12 year high (and a president who can’t stand as tall as his wife let alone Germany’s Angela Merkel), the right wanted more from Nicolas Sarkozy. He just didn’t provide it. As a result, the vote on the right has completely split. Sarkozy has to concede much of the centre ground to Hollande, and must in the next two weeks fight to win over the National Front. He will most probably play an aggressive campaign on immigration to regain Le Penn’s votes – but he’d be playing a dangerous game. He cannot afford to alienate his more moderate voters. An impossible task, surely?
For 17 years, France has been governed by the same party. Such a monopoly on power has seen rising resentment towards them – just look at the Tories after 18 years in office, or the Labour party after 13. France’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement party made the decision to partake in the war against Afghanistan. They oversaw the financial crisis. They became junior partners in the Franco-German axis on account of their own actions. They played into the hands of religious prejudice and unjustified stigma. Actually, I reckon a tad more than resentment was boiling up amongst the moderates – and more like fury on the left.
And François Hollande has used ingenious tact to play on this. He countered Sarkozy’s rising racial insensitivity by releasing a (semi-official, controversial) campaign video, where hemeets a varied range of ethnic minorities in the capital city to the backing track of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Ni**as in Paris’. Well played. He has also adopted policies that have huge appeal; troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year; a deficit of 0% GDP by 2017; a reduction in nuclear energy reliance from 75% to 50% are just a handful. They have been calculated as feasible projections, adding substance to Hollande’s already appealing image.
The socialist candidate is undoubtedly in the driving seat to take the presidency on the 6th May. It’s his to lose.
It’s not quite the left-wing fightback revolution across Europe… yet.
But France is a start.
[Comprehensive coverage can be found on the BBC’s website.]