After 17 years of conservative rule in France, a Socialist is finally heading for the Elysée. The official exit poll for the final round of the presidential election gave François Hollande 52 per cent of the vote, with Nicolas Sarkozy trailing on 48 per cent, the first time a Socialist has won since François Mitterrand in 1988. Much to Sarkozy’s dismay (he absurdly accused the pollsters of “lying“), he has become the first French President not to win re-election since Giscard d’Estaing 31 years ago.
In a valedictory address to his supporters, minutes after the polls closed, Sarkozy conceded defeat, declaring that “François Hollande is the President of France and must be respected.” It was a rare show of dignity from the UMP candidate, who ran a shamelessly populist and demagogic campaign, pandering to anti-Muslim prejudice at every opportunity.
The implications for British politics are significant. Hollande’s call for a more balanced approach to deficit reduction (he has pledged to renegotiate the EU’s fiscal compact) and his support for fiscal stimulus finally gives Labour an ally in Europe. In his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, George Osborne attempted to spin Hollande’s victory in the Tories’ favour by claiming that he is not “anti-austerity”. There is some truth to this. Hollande has pledged to eliminate France’s 5.2 per cent deficit by 2017, just a year later than Sarkozy did. The high vote for Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round (11 per cent) showed the desire among some voters for a more radical alternative to austerity. But the irony is that were Hollande a British politician, his support for higher spending would see him branded a “deficit denier” by Osborne.
We’ll hear much talk of how Cameron miscalculated by snubbing Hollande (unlike Ed Miliband) when he visted Britain earlier this year. But the truth is that Hollande was never troubled by Cameron’s behaviour. His camp openly said that it was not in their candidate’s interests to be seen with a British Conservative and that they understood his support for Sarkozy, the leader of the Tories’ French sister party.
Both Labour and the Tories will now anxiously watch the effect of Hollande’s policies on the French economy, in search of vindication for their respective strategies.