Cameron is Sarkozy's friend in need

The Prime Minister really doesn't want a Socialist to win in France and he's not afraid to show it.

It is neither a surprise nor a secret that David Cameron wants Nicolas Sarkozy to win France's presidential election in April.

It isn't a surprise because Sarko, for all that the two men have had their differences, is a fellow leader of the centre-right and has been a useful partner in defence and security cooperation. They worked together in the campaign against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. That kind of military partnership counts for a lot in international diplomacy - enough, at least to compensate for a bunch of snide comments made about each other on the periphery of European summits.

Besides, Sarkozy's closest rival, Francois Hollande is a Socialist, running on an anti-austerity, anti-Big Finance ticket whose victory would threaten to tilt the balance of European power leftward. Naturally, Cameron doesn't like the idea of that.

The UK prime minister's preferences are no secret because he shared them in an interview with Le Figaro, a conservative French newspaper, when on a visit to Paris last week.

Cameron lavished praise on the incumbent President and offered his unambiguous support. This has raised a few eyebrows. It is not considered good form or shrewd diplomacy to explicitly endorse one side in a foreign election, given that the other guy might win. John Major's relations with Bill Clinton got off to a notoriously rocky start because the British prime minister had supported George Bush Snr, the defeated Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, Hollande is visiting London next week, mainly to woo the capital's large French ex-pat community. He is making time to see Ed Miliband, but has not yet had an invitation to Number 10. A spokesman says the PM as "no plans" to meet the man who could be President. I doubt Hollande is much bothered by the omission. There is no huge electoral advantage to being seen hobnobbing with the Tory leader, although perhaps meeting foreign leaders helps a challenger look Presidential.

For that reason, Sarkozy would probably rather keep Cameron all to himself. His campaign is relying heavily on the claim to be a heavyweight international figure, experienced enough to grapple with the epic crises of the times. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is practically on secondment to the Sarko campaign to reinforce that message.

There is, it must be said, no suggestion that the French President asked his British counterpart to snub Hollande and no indication Cameron would oblige if asked. Maybe their diaries just didn't work out. One conversation that, I'm told, did take place in Paris between Sarkozy's and entourage and Cameron's on the subject of the forthcoming election consisted of the French side asking the Tories for advice on how to stage a come-back when languishing in the polls, citing the example of John Major's 1992 victory. My source doesn't reveal the answer, but I imagine it was "run against Neil Kinnock."

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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