The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has revealed that he will run for the leadership of the French Socialist Party, setting the stage for a showdown with former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.
The Socialists have been divided and rudderless since Mme Royal was soundly beaten by Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2007 and have failed to mount an effective opposition.
Party members are due to choose a new leader in November. Mme Royal said in May that she would stand and M. Delanoë, who is seen as her most serious rival, had been under pressure to launch his own bid. "Yes, I will put all my energy at the service of my beliefs," the mayor told Le Monde when asked if he would run.
An openly gay politician who has given Parisians free bikes-for-hire and fake beaches along the river Seine, M. Delanoë is seen by some Socialists as their best chance of breathing new life into the party.
There has been speculation that M. Delanoë would like to challenge M. Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012, but he and other Socialist leaders say it is much too early to talk about that.
For now, the Socialists have been so engrossed in the leadership contest that they have failed to capitalise on M. Sarkozy's decline in popularity since late 2007. The President has launched dozens of reforms but voters have yet to see their purchasing power improve – the main concern according to the polls – and many are disappointed with him.
But the quarrelling Socialists have been overshadowed as opponents by Oliver Besancenot, an eloquent Trotskyist postman who speaks for the Communist Revolutionary League.
"We have to propose an alternative path to the French, to balance our public finances and increase investment," M. Delanoë said in his interview with Le Monde. M. Delanoë won a second term as mayor by a wide margin in March. On the national stage, however, he is an unknown quantity and may struggle to match Mme Royal's exposure.
The latest poll on the Socialist Party leadership, published by Le Parisien, found that M. Delanoë was the most popular choice but not by a landslide.