Sarkozy sets out his stall

The French president will tack right to head off the threat of Marine Le Pen.

Nicolas Sarkozy is due to announce officially that he will run for the French presidency again next week. But in an interview today with the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro he sets out the main themes of his campaign. As Alexandre Lemarié argues in Le Monde, those themes are designed to appeal to voters tempted by the Front National's Marine Le Pen, who could threaten Sarkozy's participation in the second and decisive round of the presidential election in May.

Here is some of what he said.

Work and responsibility

  • "After five years as president, I am more convinced than ever that work must be rewarded. It's not a question simply of saying that you have to work to succeed - that's obvious - but that work is a value in itself, necessary to the accomplishment of the individual and to social cohesion."
  • "I would say the same about responsibility. It is what gives freedom its meaning. One is free to the extent that one is responsible - to oneself and to others. So I see responsibility as the indispensible accompaniment to freedom. Freedom without constraint or limit, freedom as the principle of a society in which everything is permitted and in which one doesn't have to account for oneself, is not a value I identify with."

The French economy and competitiveness

  • "What is most harmful in our system is its authoritarian character, its disconnection from the day-to-day running of businesses."
  • "If, in a given business, the employees and the boss agree on the terms of employment, salaries and flexibility, then their agreement should be authorised by law and take precedence over invididual contracts. This is the choice we've made with [Prime Minister] François Fillon, and it's what has allowed the Germans to succeed to a great extent in their struggle against unemployment. This new flexibility will benefit the French economy as well as employees, who will benefit from an increase in competitiveness."

Gay marriage

  • "I'm not in favour [of gay marriage]. In 2007, I proposed civil partnerships. We didn't bring them in because we realised that it was unconstitutional to reserve such partnerships for homosexuals alone. The notion of a civil partnership threatens the institution of marriage ... In these troubled times, I don't think it is wise to sully the image of this essential social institution [marriage].

National identity

  • "I say to the French people: be proud of your country; we have values; we are like no other people; we must continue to welcome foreigners, but those whom we welcome must love our country. It's for those who arrive here to assimilate our rules - it's not for republican principles to adapt to them. We have been able to integrate earlier waves of migration into the republican melting-pot because the new arrivals had cultural and religious attachments close to ours. More recent immigration is different."
  • "France has made considerable efforts to create places of worship in order that everyone feels that their differences are being acknowledged. But equally, limits have to be fixed. In 2008, I explained that the burqa or the niqab should be banned. I also asked that prayers in the street be curtailed, because, in a secular state, other citizens shouldn't have to see that."
  • "France has Christian, or Judeo-Christian, roots. That is a historical reality that it would be absurd to deny! Look at the churches and cathedrals that cover our country. France was born out of the meeting between the will of kings and that oif the Church. Joan of Arc, the 600th anniversary of whose birth we've just celebrated, was born at the crossroads of that double will. Saying that doesn't imply that one belongs to a church, nor that one is any less committed to the values of the Republic or the principles of secularism. Let's not cut France off from part of its history."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.