Last week when we looked at France it seemed that centre-right support was slipping away from Republican presidential candidate François Fillon. He appears to have stemmed that tide for the moment, but in the big picture it has done him little good.
Instead, the movement this week has been on the centre-left. Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon, still polling a poor fourth with less than 15%, is now quoted at the derisory odds of 33-1. His centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, the odds-on favorite, has started to pick up some big endorsements from within the Socialist camp: Bertrand Delanoë, former mayor of Paris, and Jacques Attali, the party’s economic reform guru. Even the party’s parliamentary leader, Claude Bartolone, has hinted that he might go the same way.
Prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve is showing loyalty to Hamon for the moment, but further defections seem only a matter of time: Le Monde yesterday remarked that a number of ministers “are waiting for the right moment to rally to” Macron.
As long as Fillon’s campaign seemed to be self-destructing, there was no particular reason for Socialists to desert Hamon – they could be confident that Macron would make the second round without their help, and they could support him then with a good conscience. But if Fillon gets himself back on track, that raises the possibility of a runoff between him and the far right’s Marine Le Pen.
No Socialist wants to see that. And since Hamon’s chance of preventing it seems negligible, Macron is the only option.
Fillon’s campaign does look a bit steadier this week, although that’s coming off a low base. Alain Juppé, the rival whom he beat in the Republican primary, announced on Monday that he would not try to replace him, although it was rather less than a full-blooded endorsement. The party’s hierarchy, lacking obvious alternatives, have rallied behind their candidate; Senate leader Gerard Larcher, who had also been mentioned as a possible substitute, said that attempts to replace Fillon must end.
The Republicans’ centrist allies, the Union of Democrats and Independents, have also come back on board, albeit with some reluctance. Nonetheless, if Macron should win the presidency, they would be obvious candidates to be part of a new presidential coalition in the National Assembly.
There’s a month and a half to go until the first round on 23 April, so the race is certainly not over yet. But the polls suggest that Fillon has a lot of ground to make up. Macron and Le Pen are virtually tied in first place, each with around 25%, while he is struggling to make 20%.
And the more of a threat Fillon appears, the more the Socialist Party is likely to fracture.