'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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project