François Hollande builds lead as Nicolas Sarkozy allies admit writing is on the wall

Poll saying socialist could win by 14 per cent leaves right wing in despair

Lille

Confronted with plunging polls and deserting allies, President Nicolas Sarkozy faces the prospect of a rout in the two-round French presidential election starting this weekend, with senior members of his government already said to be certain of defeat.

Supporters of the front-running Socialist candidate, François Hollande, could scarcely contain their euphoria when they gathered in Lille for their last big rally on Tuesday night before French electors go to the polls on Sunday. They interrupted the candidate's speech endlessly with chants of "François president, François president".

"You are well informed," Mr Hollande quipped. "It is possible we are going to win. It's not certain... but, yes, I feel the hope rising."

New polls published yesterday suggested that Mr Hollande, 57, was leading the field of 10 candidates in the first round with up to 29 per cent of the vote. He had extended his lead over Mr Sarkozy to between two and four points. In voting intentions for the two-candidate, second round on 6 May, Mr Hollande now leads the President by a "landslide" margin of 14 to 16 per cent.

In a series of damning, private remarks, reported by the Le Canard Enchainé newspaper, senior members of President Sarkozy's government said that defeat now seemed inevitable.

"The carrots are cooked," the Prime Minister, François Fillon, was quoted as saying. "[Sarkozy's] strategy of campaigning on hard-right issues was a serious mistake." The former centre-right prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, was reported to have said privately: "There is no chance of us winning."

The President has also suffered a series of desertions. It was reported earlier this week that the former President Jacques Chirac intended to switch sides and vote for Mr Hollande. A clutch of former Sarkozy ministers and supporters, from the right, left and centre of French politics, have also declared they will vote for the socialist. They include Martin Hirsch and Fadéla Amara, two of Mr Sarkozy's ministerial recruits from the Left after his 2007 election and three former centre-right Chirac-era ministers, Azouz Begag, Corinne Lepage and Brigitte Girardin.

The President has fought an energetic but erratic campaign. He began by warning that France needed tough medicine to escape recession. But he then switched to a hard-right message to reclaim votes from Marine Le Pen's National Front.

In recent weeks, Mr Sarkozy warned that French "identity" was menaced by a tide of illegal immigration, Islamist terrorism and halal meat. Last Sunday, he stole abruptly – and without acknowledgement – Mr Hollande's argument that the European Central Bank should be allowed to pump reflationary cash into Eurozone economies (a policy that Mr Sarkozy had opposed with Germany).

Mr Sarkozy's sharp right turn propelled him into a narrow lead in first- round opinion polls but that support now appears to have dribbled back to Ms Le Pen. In polls published yesterday, she regained third place with around 17 per cent of the vote.

The hard-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose lurid anti-capitalist rhetoric has illuminated an uninspiring campaign, fell back to fourth place with around 13-14 per cent.

Through all these twists and turns, Mr Hollande has held his nerve. At the Lille rally, he said he would bring a three-part approach to the economic crisis: "responsibility" (deficit cuts, mostly through tax rises); "growth" (EU capital investment programmes and the reflationary printing of euros); and "solidarity" (help for poorer people and poorer EU countries).

Still, the limitations of "Hollandism" were apparent. He failed to fill a giant pop-concert venue from which most seats had been cleared. The crowd of 15,000 cheered his rhetoric against "big finance" but became fidgety as Mr Hollande explained the minutiae of his plans.

The Socialist top brass, seated nearby, were, however, two steps ahead of Mr Hollande. Their chatter was not about the first or second rounds but the "third round": who would be "in" and who would be "out" in the first centre-left government for a decade. The favourite to be Mr Hollande's prime minister is the Socialist party leader, Martine Aubry, daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors.

Mr Hollande and Ms Aubry briefly held up one another's arms in a victory salute at the Lille rally. However, their stiff body language suggested the prime-ministerial choice has yet to be made.

Presidential election: How the voting works

The opening round of the presidential election this weekend is the first of four polling days in just over two months. On Sunday, French voters will choose between the 10 candidates. The top two go on to the second round on 6 May, after which the winner will hold office for five years, not seven as used to be the case.

He (never yet she) will be the ultimate arbiter of French policy but will not run the government day to day. To do that, the President will choose a Prime Minister. He, or possibly she, will seek to win a parliamentary majority in the lower house of parliament.

These "legislative elections" will be fought, once again over two rounds, on 10 and 17 June.

Suggested Topics
News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
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

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband