'Mr Normal' comes out fighting for French vote

Ahead in the polls, Socialist candidate goes on the offensive to shrug off 'soft' image

Le Bourget

A newly-energised French presidential front-runner, François Hollande, answered his critics yesterday with a barnstorming speech in which he promised to create a new "French dream".

At a packed public meeting to launch the final phase of his campaign, the Socialist candidate tore into President Nicolas Sarkozy's "vain" and "zig-zag" style of leadership, without once mentioning him by name. He promised to balance France's budget within five years and to take on the "faceless" world of finance, which he said governed without "ever standing for election".

He promised to cut presidential and ministerial salaries by 30 per cent and to negotiate – within six months of the second round of the election on 6 May – a new Franco-German treaty which would put growth, not just austerity, at the heart of the battle to save the euro. If elected, Mr Hollande said, he would decide within a month whether to pull French troops out of Afghanistan.

In an 83-minute speech in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Mr Hollande, 57, appeared finally to give narrative and voice to a campaign which has often seemed as flat as his namesake country. Although he rides high in the polls, increasing his first-round lead in a new survey at the weekend, many supporters had begun to criticise his cautious and low-octane style of politics.

But yesterday, to deafening roars of approval from a crowd of 25,000 – double the number expected – Mr Hollande sought to make his quiet, plodding personality a virtue in menacing times. "I am not someone who shows off," he said. "I remain myself. That's my strength. That's who I am."

Centre-right politicians have mocked Mr Hollande's earlier promise to be a "normal" president, compared with the noisy razzmatazz of the Sarkozy years. But Socialist campaign managers appear to believe that could be a potential vote-winner. Some Hollande supporters yesterday wore sweat-shirts in Socialist colours emblazoned with the single word "normal".

Mr Hollande will announce a detailed presidential programme on Thursday. In his speech yesterday, he repeated previous promises to radically reform the French income tax system and to create 60,000 new teaching jobs. He made a rather vague pledge to abolish the French budget deficit – now running at 5.7 per cent of GDP – over five years.

He sprang a couple of surprises, intended to please left-wing voters without costing a euro. If elected, he said, he would enshrine in the French constitution the law of 1905 which guarantees the secularity of the French state. He said he would take on his "real opponent", the world of finance, by imposing a "true" tax on all financial transactions, and would ban French high street banks from speculation or operations in offshore tax havens.

Most of all, however, Mr Hollande tried to banish the accusation that he is likeable but soft politician: the name Flamby, a kind of caramel pudding, has been applied to him by enemies and some supposed allies alike.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'