'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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent