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No, the fall of François Fillon doesn’t mean Marine Le Pen will win

It is Emmanuel Macron who has the most to gain. 

It has been a crazy week for politics in France, too. No immigration ban resulting in global protests or firing of an attorney general – but the impressive fall from grace of François Fillon, the centre-right Républicain presidential candidate whom everyone thought was the best man to defeat Le Pen.

The weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed last week that Fillon’s wife, Penelope, had been employed as a parliamentary assistant between 2005 and 2007, a job for which no trace could be found and for which she has been paid €830,000. Further media investigation found that Fillon had also paid his children, then still students, about €84,000 over two years to work as his assistants. Penelope is also suspected to have been paid €100,000 for a literary consultant gig at a magazine owned by a friend of her husband. François Fillon himself is suspected of embezzlement of funds when he was senator, and Mediapart reported this morning that he never declared his earnings as a senior advisor for the company Ricol Lasteyrie (worth €200,000 over four years). The police have searched Fillon’s parliamentary office and a preliminary inquiry has been opened.

As his campaign entered turbulence following the reports, Fillon has promised on national TV to withdraw from the race if the inquiry becomes formal – but even if the case is closed or if he chooses to run anyway, his campaign is ruined. 

This is good news for Marine Le Pen. The greater blow to Fillon, the better for Le Pen’s populist vote, but there is only so much she can gain from his troubles. Fillon’s programme is further to the right than any other Républicain candidate who ran against him in the primary, so theoretically, the percentage of votes Le Pen can grab from him is substantial. However, it is highly unlikely that the majority of the 20 per cent of votes that polls estimated would go to Fillon before Penelopegate will flow towards Le Pen, even in the case of his withdrawal followed by the candidacy of a more centrist right-winger.

Just like there’s voting Tory and there’s voting Ukip, there’s voting Républicain and there’s voting FN: Fillon voters are socially conservative, but it does not necessarily mean they want to leave the European Union or ditch the Euro for the Franc.

And in the improbable scenario of Fillon’s supporters switching to Le Pen en masse, she would still come short of a majority of 50 per cent of the vote in the first round. The “Republican front”, the French voting tradition of all political parties coming together behind the candidate opposing the far-right, would still prevail in the second. Though it may be with a thinner majority than the astonishing 80 per cent of the vote won by Jacques Chirac in 2002, when France missed a heartbeat  after Marine’s father Jean-Marie went to the second round.

Between Fillon’s scandal and the victory of left-winger Hamon in the Socialist primary, a boulevard is opening for a candidate indeed. It’s just not Le Pen: it’s liberal, picture-perfect centrist newcomer Macron, the one she seems to be more and more bound to face in the second round on May 7.

On Sunday night, right after Hamon’s victory but before most of the astonishing sums of money were revealed in the Penelopegate – so before Fillon’s ratings really starting to suffer – Emmanuel Macron was ranked third in the polls, behind Fillon.

A new poll, published today, runs two scenarios for the first round – with and without centrist Francois Bayrou, who has yet to announce his bid – and it puts Macron ahead of Fillon for the first time.

Photo: Elabe/Les Echos

Though this poll shows his ratings skyrocketing, Hamon’s interests lie more in far-left Melenchon’s votes than in the centre. Fillon’s Républicains may decide to change their candidate at the last minute if Fillon withdraws from the race: his primary rival Juppe has said he will not make a late comeback, but some high-profiles have already registered their own [name]2017.fr domain names. Still, a last-minute Républicain candidate would struggle to keep up in the 80 days or so left, and would have to do without the democratic legitimacy conferred by the primary.

Le Pen’s programme may lure some on the far-right fringe of Fillon’s supporters. But on both left and right, a rift is opening, and without another centrist to duel for these votes, Emmanuel Macron will sweep in. Le Pen is said to be increasingly aware of him – and she’s got reasons to worry.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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