The leftwing candidate in April’s presidential elections, has built up a commanding lead in the polls by attacking big finance
On a bitterly cold morning in Dijon railway station last week, a diminutive Frenchman exited his train to the kind of fuss and fanfare that has escaped him for most of a 30-year political career. Sweeping down the frosty platform with the unmistakable air of a man in possession of his mojo, François Hollande was greeted by a flurry of victory signs from grinning passengers waiting for the 9.34am to Lausanne to leave. Surrounding him was an impressively large media scrum.
“The man of the moment!” said one bystander, as the Socialist candidate for the French presidency paused for another impromptu interview.
Welcome to the new world of the man once derided by opponents as Monsieur Flamby (“Mr Pudding”) – a reference both to Hollande’s weight and a perceived flabbiness in his political opinions. That nickname seems out of date now, after a campaign-defining speech last month in the tough Paris suburb of Le Bourget. Giving an impassioned and polished attack on the speculation and profiteering that led to the economic crisis that has engulfed Europe, Hollande told the 20,000-strong crowd: “My enemy is the world of finance.” Belatedly, French company directors, investment bankers and market movers are waking up to the growing popularity of a presidential candidate who promises to raise taxes on rich individuals and big business in order to boost growth.
With the first round of the French elections barely two months away, the polls suggest that Hollande is choosing the right adversaries. On the day he visited Dijon one survey suggested he would win a straight contest with President Nicolas Sarkozy, gaining as much as 60% of the vote.
For a politician habitually described as slightly bland, the transformation into a fêted “tribune of the people” must come as something of a shock. Up until this election campaign Hollande, 57, was known for his love of a joke, his portly mastery of the backroom politics of the Socialist party (PS), and his failed marriage to the former siren of French socialism, Ségolène Royale, who lost the presidential election of 2007.