Anne Hidalgo's victory in Paris was a small consolation for the French left. Photograph: Getty.
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French Socialists humiliated in local elections

Good news for Ukip, bad news for Labour.

France went to the polls yesterday to vote for mayors and councillors in over 36,000 municipalities. Results have barely made headlines in Britain. But all agree that the news is catastrophic for President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party, in what most have interpreted as a referendum on the state of national government.

The Socialists were braced for humiliation. Last’s week’s first-round elections saw them poll 43 per cent of the popular vote versus the 48 per cent garnered by the conservative UMP opposition. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National (FN) won a respectable 7 per cent of the country and managed to capture outright the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont. That was a remarkable achievement for a party once associated with thuggery and anti-Semitism, but which is now positioned as a eurosceptic insurgency.

The Socialists lost 151 large towns and cities on Sunday, although they retain control of Paris, which welcomes its first female mayor. The victory of Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo will offer a template for the expected candidacies of Oona King, Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell in the 2016 London mayoral race. But Paris was the left’s only consolation on a day Le Monde called “a bloodbath of which we find no equivalent in the history of municipal elections”. Turnout was 63.5 per cent, which is high by British standards but historically low for a country in which mayors wield considerable power.

Voters have delivered a damning verdict on the Socialist presidency. They are above all frustrated by Hollande's management of an economy whose key indicators are lagging behind those of Germany and the UK. French unemployment edged above 4.9 million in February, whilst growth and foreign investment remain in a slump. Hollande’s style of leadership – widely perceived as amateurish – is another object of dissatisfaction. The president’s approval ratings have been in freefall for months, and he now has the distinction of being the most unpopular leader in the history of the Fifth Republic. A cabinet reshuffle is imminent; Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will almost certainly be shown the door. He has already taken partial blame for the Socialist rout on national television.

British observers will draw lessons from events across the Channel. UKIP should be encouraged by the wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiment carrying insurgents like Le Pen and Geert Wilders – the peroxide populist who heads the Dutch Party for Freedom – up national polls. The FN has shown how vulnerable mainstream parties are to hardline eurosceptics in economically depressed and ethnically diverse communities. Marseille, France’s troubled second city, remains in the hands of Jean-Claude Gaudin of the UMP, but FN support there is on the rise.

Ed Miliband will of course be alarmed by the decline of the French left. The Labour leader welcomed Hollande’s election in May 2012 as a blow against Teutonic austerity, but the socialist alternative in France has proved neither successful nor popular. High tax policies have generated unrest in Paris and Brittany, while Hollande’s 75 per cent super levy on millionaires (compare to Milband’s support for the 50p rate on top earners) has upset football clubs and led to the prominent exile of actor Gérard Depardieu, who now attacks Parisian bolshevism from the safety of Vladimir Putin’s court.

Miliband and Hollande also share a political personality. Both have fashioned themselves as honest, serious, old-fashioned leftists standing in opposition to scandal-ridden conservative regimes. But Hollande’s reputation for dullness will unnerveLabour strategists who are struggling to contain similar allegations against their leader. Red in western Europe is becoming grey.

Britain next goes to the polls in May for the European Parliament. That vote will most likely produce similar stories about the ascendancy of the eurosceptic right. Voters on both sides of the Channel are showing themselves increasingly willing to punish mainstream parties for the failure to tackle an economic crisis that has been rumbling on for seven years.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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