So farewell, then, Nicolas Sarkozy. After winning just 21pc of the votes in the primary to decide the conservative candidate (and, most likely, the next French president) he has bowed in favour of François Fillon, his 62-year-old former Prime Minister, who had an unexpectedly good campaign. Just a month ago, Fillon was languishing on less than 15pc in the polls. But he performed well in the debates, surged in the polls and won 44pc of the vote. Next weekend, he will now go up against another Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, who won 28pc.
Fillion’s platform is refreshingly Thatcherite: advocating British-style spending cuts, trimming around half a million public-sector jobs (in the UK’s case, this has led to more employment as the private sector creates three jobs for every public sector job cut). ‘With our mountain of debt, we are sliding toward bankruptcy,’ he says.
With almost half of France saying that they want out of the European Union and despairing at Hollande’s rather disastrous presidency, there’s a lot of support for Marine Le Pen. She is hoping for momentum from the anti-immigration, anti-trade stirrings across the Atlantic. There is little doubt that she’ll be in the final two for the presidential election in May next year.
François Hollande’s staggering unpopularity suggests that neither he nor anyone from his party will make it to the final two. So this election is coming down to a simple question: how will the conservative candidate influence the vote for Le Pen? The below chart suggests that Juppé would reduce her vote below 30pc, and Fillon below 40pc. All of the polls suggest that any conservative challenger could beat Le Pen.
MARINE LE PEN’S LIKELY SHARE OF THE VOTE AGAINST VARIOUS OTHER CANDIDATES (Graph from Citi)
This will be Juppé’s platform: that he is the candidate most likely to beat Le Pen – or, as he put it this morning, ‘to bar the route to the Front National that would drag us on the worst of paths.’ So his campaign becomes less about him and more about her – underlying the point Jonathan Fenby made in The Spectator a few weeks ago: that, win or lose, Le Pen has transformed French politics.