As Hollande walks out with a sliver of a victory in the French election, the left wing can hardly believe its luck. The pendulum has swung against austerity. France has swung out against Europe, against Germany. Against the rich. Greece has swung in the same direction. London has not.
After a weekend of nerves, France has struck out against the arrogant and fallible Sarkozy. Love, hate Sarkozy. The French have favoured François Hollande, an awkward suit who rides a trendy scooter, the l’ENA graduate who seems more comfortable behind a desk or at the market in his agricultural Correze department, than in swanky high office with smooth chat. A man who is an outsider in an insiders game, the man, who though the same age as Sarkozy, could not be more different in outlook or background.
‘Long live the republic and long live France,’ for the first time in a quarter of a century, a socialist candidate has won the French presidential, the first one in history beating an incumbent. Sarkozy, humbled, has conceded defeat amongst howls from his supporters, but in what direction will France go, will Hollande’s ‘Vote for Change,’ policy ever take root?
Growth not austerity, fluffiness not fighting stance, popular, but not popularist and importantly a strong support amongst immigrants and their children. Shockingly in an IFOP poll during the first-round votes on April 22 showed that 73% of Hollande voters supported him because they wanted to punish Sarkozy.
What France needs is a shake up of complex labour laws and a dismantlement of its strong handed and over reactive unions, surprisingly once again, Hollande may be the one best suited for the job. A graduate from a top business school , he praised British moves to ease market regulations, something which would usually be associated with politicians in the opposite camp.
Another interesting facet of the election results was the fact that although the French stated immigration as a key part of the election, they have come out to be more canny and less bigoted than observes would let us believe. Sarkozy played on immigration fears, as did the far right FN which had impressive gains in the primaries, however when it came down to the Presidentials, Sarkozy left it out, showing economics as the most important issue. The French healthcare system, perhaps the best in the world, may have suffered under austerity but Hollande’s tax and spend manifesto has won through.
The next few weeks and months will see whether Hollande will prove his mettle in highly politicised France, where everybody seems to have an opinion, but few an answer. In many ways this is a new direction for France, will the establishment be shaken up in a quiet May ’68? Or will Hollande become another lethargic French President with many words but no sword with which to play with?