When the third man comes first

He came third in the first round but is Bayrou the kingmaker of the French election?

Clearly, this presidential election is not like the others. Normally the first round cuts out all the candidates bar two, who face each other in the finals two weeks later.

This time the third candidate, instead of retreating quietly to his cage to lick his wounds in silence, has managed the feat of inviting himself along to the second-round campaign.

Indeed, the two finalists – the right’s Nicolas Sarkozy, with 31% of the votes, and the socialist Segolene Royal with 25% - need the support of the centrist vote to gain a majority on the 6th May. Never before Bayrou had a centrist gained so many votes; on 22nd April he fetched 18.5%.

But yet, is he a real “kingmaker”? If one part of the Bayrou-voters came from the right, and another from the left, a third faction voted for him in order to reject the left- and right-wing parties who have been succeeding each other in government for years.

Those voters were seriously convinced by his promise to find solutions in the centre ground. Bayrou can’t disappoint them in overtly calling for them to vote for Royal and Sarkozy. Less than all the other candidates, he doesn’t “own” his votes. That’s why, on Wednesday, he refused to support either of the two remaining candidates. He simply changed the name of his party, the UDF, to the Democratic Party. With this he’s hoping to break with the time when the UDF was just a buffer for the neo-Gaullist party (called the RPR, then then UMP). At best, it seems, he could admit next week that he will personally be voting for Segolene Royal, without calling for others to vote for her.

This possibility is still important enough though for Royal to have organised a debate with Bayrou before the planned debate between the two finalists, set for Wednesday 2nd May. She wants to prove that the socialists and the centrists share many ideas.

If this alliance made victory possible for Royal, and if it carried on into the legislative elections in June, it could completely alter the French political scenery. The Socialist Party’s heart would then drift towards the right – as is wished by, for instance, the former Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn – in on order to become a Social Democrat party resembling those found in other European countries, more well-disposed towards private enterprise. It could eventually join with Francois Bayrou’s party, if it managed to anchor it in the centre ground.

Exciting… but not very probable. Sarkozy is named as the winner on the 6th May by all the polls so far.

Frederic Niel is a French journalist based in Paris, who has worked for Reuters, Phosphore magazine and other news organisations.
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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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