Yesterday, 25,000 people ventured to Le Bourget, Paris from right across France. Why? Neither to celebrate one of La République’s triumphs, nor to gratify a penchant for protest. The source of attraction was François Hollande, holding his first rally in the run-up to this spring’s presidential election.
Since winning the Parti Socialiste’s candidature in the citizen primary in October, Hollande has been the clear favourite in the polls. Certainly, the gap between him and Sarkozy has fluctuated, tightening a little. Yet Hollande has persistently been the outright winner of every hypothetical election the pollsters have conjured up. Change, his campaign slogan, seems a real possibility.
Underlying the excellent poll ratings, however, has been the uneasy feeling that it could all fall away. Fanned by Sarkozy’s UMP, speculation over whether Hollande really is presidential material, or “présidentiable”, has been rife. So, friends and foe alike anxiously awaited Sunday to see whether the Socialist candidate would demonstrate that presidential quality key to victory.
As expected, anticipation quickly grew as the thousands gradually filled the vast convention centre: T-shirts donned, flags waving, slogans chanted. Eager and impatient, the crowd was waiting for something special: not simply le changement, but a candidate they believe in.
When Hollande finally appeared, making his way to the stage through a seething crowd of press and supporters, the room erupted. (Your correspondent, Rosbif that she is, with little experience of presidential politics, admits that she found the rally and its overwhelming buzz something of a novelty.)
To roars from a jubilant crowd, Hollande reeled off proposition after proposition, setting off the details of his own project by carefully weaving in criticisms of Sarkozy’s failures: from the president’s handling of the Eurozone crisis, to tax loopholes for the super-rich. Yet strikingly, he named “the world of finance” as his “real adversary”.
This attack on finance stood out as an affirmation of a shift leftwards. Notable propositions included that banks’ lending and speculative operations be separated, and that French banks be denied the right to set up in overseas tax havens.
Nonetheless, to claim, as has the right, that Hollande has veered dramatically to the left, is a great exaggeration. Giving a tough stance on law and order, he promised that criminals would be properly dealt with, and that areas with high rates of crime would be made into “priority zones” to restore communities’ safety and security.
Furthermore, despite cries of typical leftwing profligacy, Hollande made clear his understanding of the need for economic credibility. He underlined that increases in spending will be made through savings made elsewhere, with the aim of balancing the budget by the end of the mandate in 2017.
Elsewhere, a number of distinctly progressive policies stood out, from the right for gay couples to marry and adopt, to sanctions for companies not respecting equal pay legislation.
Hollande finished by evoking the “French dream”. He asked that, should he become president, his mandate be judged first and foremost by whether the lives of young people are better in 2017 than today.
Overall, yesterday’s rally was about showing change to be more than a mere slogan, but the beginning of something; the keyword uniting a host of propositions to transform France. The pace is set to pick up this week, with Hollande presenting his manifesto on Thursday, crucially explaining the budget behind the vision. Everything, it seems, is underway to consolidating the campaign.
Despite the current poll ratings, wresting power from Sarkozy will be tough: the incumbent is undoubtedly a formidable politician. However, with less than 100 days to go before the election, yesterday Hollande showed that he is up to the task of president. Mr Normal is henceforth Mr Présidentiable.