The day Hollande won over England

The Prime Minister may have refused to meet him, but Michael McCarthy was on hand to greet François Hollande in London yesterday

Bon, said Philippe Brun, which is not only French for good, but also the French for "right then". "First chant: François – President! Second chant: All together, socialists! (Tous ensemble, socialistes!) Third chant: Go, go, go, Hollande! (Allez, allez, allez, Hollande!). He added in an aside to me: "That one to the tune of Yellow Submarine."

I didn't think this was how the French in London comported themselves. I thought all 400,000 of them – yes, it's that many – were besuited bankers who worked in Canary Wharf and went home in the evening to South Kensington where they consumed exquisite patisseries. I was wrong.

Outside St Pancras Station yesterday morning, waiting for the Eurostar from Paris bearing their presidential candidate, the members of France's Parti Socialiste (London Branch) were displaying their organised radical fervour, and making it clear that, in undertaking a special campaigning trip to London, François Hollande might well pick up some serious votes in the forthcoming electoral battle with Nicolas Sarkozy.

They were mostly young and clean-looking, his supporters, wearing white T-shirts bearing the party emblem, a red rose (though not any namby-pamby, New Labour-style red rose; the French socialist rose is clenched in a fist that is coming straight for your face). And they weren't bankers – 20 year-old Philippe is a student doing an internship at the Electoral Reform Society; and they didn't all live in South Kensington – Amandine Courtin, the head of the welcoming party with a bunch or red roses, lives in Bethnal Green; and they were full of enthusiasm for a politician who has promised to take the bankers on, curb their bonuses and bring in a marginal tax rate of 75 per cent for anyone earning more than one million Euros a year.

In fact, such was the enthusiasm, that when M Hollande finally emerged, he was lost in a scrum of photographers so frenzied that it was several minutes before he reappeared, a life spent in the back rooms of socialist politics clearly not having prepared him for rock-star adulation, as he wore the astonished toothy smile of a cosmetic dentist who has just won the lottery.

And he was small, I realised with surprise; in fact I wondered if he were as small as his rival Sarkozy, though Eric Hacqemand, political correspondent of Le Parisien, put me right. "He's about four centimetres taller," he said.

But it was serious business, this visit to London, not least because France now has a "Northern Europe" voting constituency which will return its own MP to the French parliament, and most of the voters will be London-based; and also because the French display a certain anguish about all their young people who prefer the British capital, considering it a far more dynamic city than Paris in which to do business. They argue about the dynamism of "the Anglo-Saxon model" versus the lethargy of the "French social model". Is that why 400,000 French men and women are now living in London, I managed to ask M Hollande, by judicious use of elbows in photographer ribs and the shoving of a tape recorder right under his nose. "No," he said. "They are here to work in the service of the European economy and it is good that there are young people who everywhere put their talents and capacity to work to good use."

He was off then for talks with the Labour leader Ed Miliband at Westminster: a joint statement about the need for growth and for financial regulation (although Mr Miliband politely declined to endorse the call for a 75 per cent tax rate); the presentation of a bottle of single malt Scotch; and a lunch of roast beef with the Shadow Cabinet.

Afterwards, M Hollande strolled out for a photocall by the Thames and he spoke to his countrymen who have crossed the channel for their careers. "These French are the same as the French in France," he said. "They wish for economic recovery; they wish to have the best future possible; and they wish for justice, because they consider that effort should be shared. So I address all French people, wherever they live, to say that the change is now, and everywhere."

He might not quite look presidential yet, but in French it was eloquent and moving. Who knows? He might even win.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable