Banker bashing - the way to election victory?

This is the first morning the twists and turns of the French presidential election that we've been following so closely here in Paris have filled serious column inches in the foreign press and popped up on front pages all around the world - and that's as good a way as any of showing that François Hollande's big campaign rally yesterday has made a serious impact. It's one statement that's got foreign correspondents really excited - his pledge to fight the financial system, calling it his only true adversary, and declaring he would be 'the president of the end of privileges'. He promised to reform the latest EU treaty that ties countries in to austerity measures. That rhetoric is enough to alarm the British right wing press, who have barely noted Hollande's existence so far; 'Presidential front runner declares war on France's rich' headlines the Times, while the Telegraph worries his plans to curb financial markets could make him a tricky partner for Europe's right wing leaders. They're starting to realise this election isn't just a French concern - if voters buck the European trend and reject economic orthodoxy for a president who's prepared to attack bankers this explicitly, that would radically shake up eurozone debt talks and global politics as a whole.


Of course, it's pretty unlikely President Hollande would really be as radical as the Times fears; this is political posturing, and for his audience, it was pitch-perfect. Three months after he was picked as candidate, Hollande has so far failed to reach out to the demographic of working-class voters who were once natural socialists but have turned away from a party that took them too much for granted. Squeezed by high unemployment and their falling spending power, many see the financial crisis as the fruit of a sort of conspiracy against ordinary people of modest means - and the most effective way politicians have of winning them round is to paint themselves as somehow outside the system. That's a natural tactic for Marine Le Pen, who likes to lump the two major parties together as 'UMPS' ; a little less so for the centrist candidate François Bayrou, himself a former minister, touting a programme with little new in terms of policy, but with the trump card of being able to tell voters he has consistently spoken out about the way the economy is being run for years. The pose of an outsider makes Hollande look rather more awkward- he did after all run the socialist party for a decade - but it's the right choice to unite left-leaning voters who've been doubting whether Hollande will really represent a dramatic enough rupture with the current government. It was rapturously well received by the leftist papers here in France, who are celebrating the socialist candidate being back in the game. The question, of course, is whether he will back it up with policy annoucements; there is a thin line to tread between winning over those disaffected voters and scaring off the middle ground.


Today, though, is a day to be optimistic, I think, both about the socialist candidate's chances and about how interesting this election will be to cover - with four serious candidates who could get to the second round, all bets are basically off. As the Financial Times puts it today, don't look to Washington for this year's most exciting, dynamic and unpredictable presidential race - look to Paris.

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