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Hollande in London – The French Socialist’s Visit

Submitted by on March 8, 2012 – 7:37 amNo Comment

Hollande arriving in the capital.

It was a busy leap year for Mr François Hollande, the frontrunner in the French presidential elections. For someone who incarnates the 35-hour working week in France he was exceptionally busy. For breakfast he appeared on French radio station RTL being interviewed by well-known journalists such as Jean-Michel Apathie, Alain Duhamel and Yves Calvi as well as the average Frenchman calling in and asking questions. Only a few years ago Hollande described himself as the average Frenchman and rightly so, many of his opponents criticised him for not having done much in politics since he’s never held a ministerial post.

A few days beforehand he had announced a 75 per cent tax rate on yearly earnings above €1m(£847,000) a year. Straight after that it was straight to the Gare du Nord and onto the Eurostar to London. From St Pancras station he and his team, consisting of high profile Parti Socialiste members such as Pierre Moscovici, Hollande’s campaign director; Harlem Désir, number two of the Parti Socialiste and Elisabeth Guigou, former justice minister from 1997 to 2000 in Lionel Jospin’s government.

In London he met with Labour leader Ed Milliband at the Palace of Westminster. In response to controversy he faced from his statement of finance being his enemy Hollande said,”I am not dangerous but we must have more regulation everywhere.” There he posed for photos before they retreated into the opposition leader’s office. David Cameron having refused to even meet Hollande he was forced to have a lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with his left-wing camarade, who rejected a 75 per cent tax on the rich saying that 50 per cent would be enough for him. In the end you can’t alienate all of London’s bankers.

After having met left-wing parties in Germany and Italy Hollande used his trip to London to promote his image of being pro-European who would do everything for the younger generation. Something that he immediately made good on by giving the only public speech of the day at King’s College on the South Bank.

Despite arriving nearly half an hour late he was still met by young Socialistes boasting flags and t-shirts crammed with his slogan. A large media crowd, both French and English, followed him everywhere he went, from which Axelle Lemaire, the PS candidate for the third international constituency, profited from.

At King’s College he repeatedly stated he was a friend of Britain and would hate to see it take a sideline role in the European Union. Repeatedly stating Churchill and Charles De Gaulle, both who made their careers in London, he said that the UK’s and France’s history formed strong bonds between them. This was seen throughout recent years by the campaign in Libya, which was Sarkozy’s big international feat, and the UK-France defence treaties.

London did not see any new campaign propositions from Hollande, who merely repeated previous ones like the retreat of troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2012 and the need for more financial regulation. All this only “if the French give me a mandate,” coming after criticism in France that he was campaigning with an air of confidence that was unsurpassed among the other candidates. He defended the idea of employing 60,000 more teachers in France and going in the opposite direction of the UK that it would be “madness” to raise tuition fees. To a mainly academic crowd he said that he envied the UK’s universities for being so high in rankings and would like to see France’s follow suit.

At the end of his speech he returned to the controversy over his financial enemy. Attempting to stay consistent after his interview in the Guardian he said of finance, “It can be a cause of conflict. To speak of it here” but that, “banks aren’t necessary for speculation. We need to bring in some order. We need to end the excesses.” Thinking that the public had misunderstood his desire to renegotiate the European treaty on budgetary discipline of 30 January he said that his plan to recharge Europe would be “political, economic, financial and intellectual.” With a thank you from King’s College he was whisked off to St Pancras station where he met with Parti Socialiste members inside the German Gymnasium before his return to France.

The informal decor and collection of François Hollande posters set the tone for that evening. In expectations of his arrival militants attempted to cheer and shout slogans of “Hollande Président!” above the blaring music. At the moment of his walk up the stairs into the meetings hall the near 200 supporters went into overdrive. Flags were waved, slogans for Axelle Lemaire and Hollande were shouted while cheers and whistles came from all around.

This meeting was livelier and Hollande was more vocal. Legislative candidate for London and other countries of northern Europe opened what one militant with a rousing speech described as a “concert”. Hollande took over repeating much of what he had said at King’s College a few hours earlier but in more vocal terms. Of the criticisms he got from the right in France on the costs of the 60,000 extra teaching posts he told his militants “I’ve done the calculations. It will cost €2.5m. That was the cost of the tax cap [which Sarkozy introduced]!” Addressing London’s French he said that they must learn to work together with the UK for a stronger Europe “but it won’t be easy. To regulate finance and to work with the Conservatives. But they’ve made their choices.” To the joy of his supporters he charged at Nicolas Sarkozy with a full arsenal, “They [the UMP] say that we will make economic growth drop but it’s already dead!” Then with a voice that you can imagine when he caricatured Sarkozy he said, “Did you see? The right have found a candidate of the people? We nearly thought it was a misunderstanding,” jeers from the crowd, “Don’t whistle. Some say it was the famous restaurant that was the problem,” referring to Sarkozy’s celebration with CAC40 CEOs at the Fouquet’s restaurant, “But it wasn’t the restaurant that was the problem. It was more the company he had!”

He ended by adamantly saying that it was important for everybody to go vote at both rounds and then to return in June “to elect Axelle!” Ending his speech he went among the energised crowd to shake hands and pose for pictures before following his team into St Pancras to the Eurostar that would take him back home. On which he most certainly had a well-deserved nap, after such a busy day for someone who was once a Monsieur Normal.

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