Acrimony as Giscard hands over the reins

French power struggle: Leotard elected leader of centre-right

MARY DEJEVSKY

Lyons

France's former defence minister, Francois Leotard, won one of the most bitter and personal contests of recent French politics yesterday to be elected leader of the country's second largest political group, the Union pour la Democracie Francaise (UDF).

He succeeds Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who founded the UDF 18 years ago as a parliamentary base for his centre-right pro-Europe policy when he was President of France.

Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who is 70, says he is stepping out of the national political limelight to concentrate on his adopted local region, the Auvergne, in central France.

As almost his last act as UDF leader, however, and one that summed up the acrimony of the two-month leadership campaign, he used his valedictory speech to endorse the candidacy of Mr Leotard's chief rival, the aggressive former economy minister, Alain Madelin.

Mr Madelin, whose popularity with the French public soared after he was sacked from the first government of Alain Juppe in August, had stood on a platform of change, renewal and modernisation. He toured the country portraying Mr Leotard as the candidate of the status quo and the UDF's inexorable decline.

In his speech at yesterday's election convention, Mr Madelin said: "Today's status quo is, I fear, tomorrow's defeat." Ramming the point home he asked: "How can the French trust the political parties to reform French society when those parties are not capable of reforming themselves?"

Mr Leotard was regarded by his enemies as the candidate of the party apparatus. By his friends and supporters he was seen as the "legitimate" candidate who merited the succession and would be able to keep the UDF - a loose federation of diverse political parties, each too small to have influence in its own right - united through a potentially difficult period for the political right.

All eyes are on the 1998 parliamentary elections, when the right - Gaullists and UDF alike - fear a sharp fall in their massive parliamentary majority, if not its outright loss. Their fears have been exacerbated in recent weeks as the overwhelming majority of local and parliamentary by-elections have gone against them.

One consideration of UDF members was to elect a leader who would minimise the losses in 1998. Mr Madelin sees himself as that leader, and in his upbeat address to delegates yesterday he presented himself as someone who would be able to restore the good name of politicians and politics in the eyes of French voters and maybe return the UDF to its 1978 position as the largest political grouping on the right.

Public opinion polls among French voters generally, and among rank-and- file UDF members gave Mr Madelin a large majority before yesterday's election.

Francois Leotard, however had the backing of the UDF apparatus and the complicated voting mechanism for the leadership - a three-part electoral college - gave him a relatively easy victory.

But he also had a hidden weapon in the shape of a running mate, Francois Bayrou.

Mr Bayrou, education minister for for the past three years, is a political bruiser equal to Mr Madelin but more canny, as he showed yesterday. He used his position as a candidate for the UDF national council to deliver a ruthless and highly personal attack on Mr Madelin, painting him as a believer in US-style welfare cuts and cheap employment.

Mr Bayrou's intervention saved Mr Leotard whose own campaign speech had been lacklustre and pessimistic. Speaking of the "crisis" afflicting France, he said it was not just a crisis of jobs or Aids but " a formidable crisis of civilisation".

Mr Bayrou, however, will want his reward. He is believed to have backed Mr Leotard only on condition that he vacates the leadership in three years' time. He has never concealed his presidential ambitions, and leadership of the UDF would give him a power base from which to stand in 2002.

This, however, assumes both that Mr Leotard agrees to stand down and that the UDF is still a fighting force after the 1998 parliamentary elections.

Both Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Madelin, along with many French political analysts, agree that without a strong, unifying and radical leader with popular appeal, the UDF risks fragmenting into the small parties from which it was formed.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine