Sarkozy and Juppé have pulled a “2010” – they both used praise of the third, assumed to be out of the race candidate in an attempt to pull votes from that person’s camp, only to find that they had created a genuine rival for the big prize. But unlike in 2010, when Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems actually lost seats in spite of all this, Francois Fillon is now Les Républicains choice of presidential candidate for the election next Spring.
I have written previously about how I believe Marine Le Pen will win the run-off contest for French president in May 2017 but until this weekend, I assumed she would be facing Juppé in the final round. Does the ascendancy of Fillon change my opinion on this?
No. I not only still think Le Pen will win, she might even do so in an easier fashion facing Fillon as opposed to Juppé. I have said that Juppé v Le Pen had a certain Clinton v Trump whiff about it – the establishment centrist versus the political outsider. But Fillon v Le Pen has more of a Owen Smith v Corbyn feel to it – the fake populist agent of change versus the real deal. That doesn’t feel promising to the centre-right French establishment’s chances of regaining the Elysee Palace.
Fillon will find it harder to get leftists to hold their noses and vote for him to prevent Le Pen from winning – what has become an electoral norm for years in France. The French Left may well look upon Fillon as being pretty much no different from Le Pen in most respects, save for the fact that Le Pen will almost certainly be more left-wing on economic issues than the Thatcherite Fillon. Seriously, if you’re a French socialist, I can’t really see the motivation to bother. At least with Juppé you could see the “hold the nose” factor remaining at least partially intact. I didn’t think that would be enough to prevent Marine Le Pen anyhow. Now she doesn’t even have that much to face.
As usual with this stuff, like when I said I thought Trump was going to win on the eve of the American election, I really hope I’m wrong. There is actually a world of difference between someone like Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen. One is pretty right-wing, at least by European standards; the other is a quasi-fascist who has dulled the less presentable edges of the Front National in order to make it electable. I believe that on May 7th of next year, Le Pen will have unfortunately have been shown to be successful in that task.