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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Where are the moderate Tories condemning Zac Goldsmith’s campaign?

Conservative MPs are reluctant to criticise the London mayoral candidate’s dogwhistle rhetoric.

Very few Conservative politicians have criticised Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to be elected London mayor. And, amid repeated accusations of racial profiling, Islamophobic undertones, and patronising London’s Indian communities, there has been plenty to criticise.

Ever since describing his rival, Sadiq Khan, as having “radical politics” at the end of last year, Goldsmith’s campaign has come under fire for attempting to sound a dogwhistle to voters for whom racial politics – and divisions – are a priority.

You may feel it’s naïve of me to expect Tory MPs to join in the criticism. Presumably most Tory MPs want their party’s candidate to win the mayoralty. So it is unlikely that they would condemn his methods.

But I’d argue that, in this case, we can’t excuse dodged questions and studied silence as good clean tribalism. Granted, Conservatives only want to see their party make electoral gains. And that is understandable. But trickier to explain away is how willing all of the party’s MPs – many of whom are as moderate and “cotton-wool Tory” (in the words of one Labour adviser) as we once assumed Goldsmith was – are to ignore the campaign’s nastier side.

Why aren’t the Cameroons (or neo-Cameroons) who wish to further “detoxify” the party speaking out? There are plenty of them. There is more enthusiasm on the Tory benches for David Cameron than is generally assumed. Many of the 2015 intake are grateful to him; those in marginal seats in particular see him as the reason they won last year. And in spite of the grumbling nature of the 2010-ers, a number of them are keener than appears on Cameron. After all, plenty wouldn’t be in parliament without his A-list and open primaries (a time when the party was supposed to be opening up to candidates of different backgrounds, something Goldsmith’s rhetoric could threaten).

And we know it’s not just Labour whining about Goldsmith’s campaign. It makes Tories uncomfortable too. For example, the Conservative Group Leader at Watford Council Binita Mehta, former Conservative candidate Shazia Awan, and Tory peer and former minister Sayeeda Warsi have spoken out.

And it’s not just non-MPs who are riled by Goldsmith’s rhetoric. Behind the scenes, Conservative MPs have been muttering for weeks about feeling uncomfortable about the campaign.

“There has been a sense that this is a bad dogwhistle, and it’s a bit of a smear,” one Tory MP tells me. “I don’t think Sadiq Khan’s a bad man at all – I think his problem is, which happens to all politicians, is some of the platforms in the past and the people he shared them with, and maybe he didn’t know – I mean, the number of times David Cameron or Gordon Brown or Tony Blair were shown at some fundraising thing, or just visiting somewhere, shaking hands with somebody who turns out to be a crook; that’s the nature of mass politics.”

There is also a mixed view among London’s Tory MPs about the tone of Goldsmith’s campaign generally. Some, who were frustrated in the beginning by his “laidback, slightly disengaged” style, are simply pleased that he finally decided to play dirty with the more energetic Khan. Others saw his initial lighter touch as an asset, and lament that he is trying to emulate Boris Johnson by being outrageous – but, unlike the current London mayor, doesn’t have the personality to get away with it.

One Tory MP describes it as a “cold, Lynton Crosby calculation of the dogwhistle variety”, and reveals that, a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense among some that it was “too much” and had “gone too far and is counterproductive”.

But this sense has apparently dissipated. Since Labour’s antisemitism crisis unfolded last week, moderate Conservative MPs feel more comfortable keeping their mouths shut about Goldsmith’s campaign. This is because racism in Labour has been exposed, even if Khan is not involved. Ironic really, considering they were (rightly) so quick to condemn Ken Livingstone’s comments and call on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs to speak out against such sentiments. It’s worth noting that Labour’s moderates have been significantly less reluctant than their Tory counterparts to call out such problems in their own party.

There is also the EU referendum to consider. Tory MPs see division and infighting ahead, and don’t want to war more than is necessary. One source close to a Tory MP tells me: “[Goldsmith’s campaign] is uncomfortable for all of us – it’s not even considered a Conservative campaign, it’s considered a Zac Goldsmith campaign. But [we can’t complain because] we have to concentrate on Europe.”

So it makes sense politically, in the short term, for Tory moderates to keep quiet. But I expect they know that they have shirked a moral duty to call out such nasty campaign methods. Their calls for Labour’s response to antisemitism, and David Cameron’s outrage about Jeremy Corbyn’s “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, are simply hollow attack lines if they can’t hold their own party to higher standards.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.