On Sunday 29th January, the fog surrounding the French presidential election dispersed a little. In the Socialist Party's primary, former minister Benoît 'petit Ben' Hamon won handsomely over the outgoing Prime Minister, the Spanish born Manuel Valls.
Hamon wants to introduce both a 'revenue universal' and a 'robot tax' in his hard-left socialist utopia, which is a recipe for disaster at the ‘urne de vote’.
Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, a young, Blair like investment banker who was President Hollande’s Finance Minister, were delighted by Hamon’s success because the large liberal/centre-left vote will now mostly go to their candidate. Put that together with the difficulties that François Fillon (the conservative Catholic centre-right candidate) has got himself into and the chances that Macron will enter the second round of voting with Marine Le Pen (the hard-right candidate, who would love to have him as her opponent) are increasing every week.
If he can overtake Fillon (or whoever the Republican party is forced to put up if Fillon is indicted) in the first round of voting on the 23rd April, Macron may well beat Le Pen on Sunday, May 7th in the final round, but it’s not clear yet whether he as President would continue with Hollande’s punitive attitude to the UK. While Macron is a very strong supporter of the EU who will seek further political and economic integration, he is also a calm, thoughtful personality, so at the very least Mrs May could expect a process based on reason rather than emotion.
As for a victory for the protectionist, anti-Euro Le Pen, the received wisdom is that she cannot win, but the pundits who advance that opinion are the same ones who said that the UK would never vote for a Brexit; and that Trump could never become US President. Personally, I wouldn’t write her off quite so easily: she’s tough, articulate, determined and (a great rarity amongst French politicians) street smart.
The UK government will still be hoping for a victory for the neo-Thatcherite Fillon. But while he is only lukewarm at best about the EU, once calling it 'inefficient and useless', and has made it clear that he wants both the Euro and Schengen to be reformed; that does not mean he won't defend the four freedoms, especially free movement of people.
Fillon is under heavy pressure to resign the nomination due to a scandal related to payments allegedly made to his Welsh born wife Penelope which has already damaged his reputation for personal integrity. His strategy is to run out the clock, knowing that it would be difficult to organise another primary before the March closing date, but every day that those bad headlines linger brings Marine Le Pen one day closer to power. On verra.