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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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.