Too little, too late? Sarkozy goes on the attack as he tries to make up lost ground

French President claims 'We are the silent majority' in an energetic and hard-right campaign

Nancy

Nicolas Sarkozy, the noisiest politician in Europe, is campaigning, noisily, in praise of silence.

The in-your-face "omni-president", who has dominated French and European air-waves for five years, is stumping through France claiming to be part of a "silent majority".

The President, who was born in Paris and has been a professional politician in greater Paris since the age of 28, tells his cheering supporters to reject "the little world of Paris". He urges them to "rebel" in favour of the status quo.

"Nous, la majorité silencieuse (we, the silent majority)," Mr Sarkozy tells a greying, prosperous, flag-waving crowd of 6,000 in Nancy. "We will prove them wrong, the pollsters, the observers, the commentators, the media, the lesson-givers."

Less than three weeks from the first round of the French presidential elections, President Sarkozy lets his audience into a secret. He is not a politician at all. He is a human being. He is certainly not, he suggests, one of those insincere, machine politicians, like, for instance, his principal rival, the Socialist candidate, François Hollande.

"Look, I have no prepared speech," he says. "And my team doesn't like that at all. This is the real me. I believe in emotion. I am not a robot. I am not an automaton. I don't act out a role. I am a human being who passionately loves his country. I have a carnal conception of my love for France."

Mr Sarkozy's unprepared speech sounds – word for word – like other unprepared speeches that he has given to recent rallies. He praises himself and the French people for resisting "demagoguery and anti-Islamic generalisation" after the Toulouse murders. He then goes on to push the anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant buttons.

Immigration will be cut in half. There will be no separate bathing hours for Muslim women in municipal swimming pools. There will be no separate, halal menus for Islamic children in state schools. Actually, the President says there will be "no separate menus in schools" – which implies that Muslim and Jewish children should eat pork.

Scripted or unscripted, it is a brilliant performance: by turns witty, bumptious, sonorous, passionate, chatty. If anything, President Sarkozy is a better stump orator than he was in 2007. Then he always seemed to be angry. In one speech, he managed to be angry with Canada.

This time around, the President, mixes anger with wit and warmth. The message is, however, broadly the same. I am an outsider. I am a man who gets things done. I don't care for ideology: I care for what works.

Is the message working? A little, but maybe not enough. A month ago many people in Mr Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) thought that the campaign was lost. The unexciting Socialist candidate, Mr Hollande, was comfortably ahead in the first round polls and predicted to win by a landslide in the two-candidate, second round on 6 May.

Since then, Mr Sarkozy's energetic, hard-right campaign, the Toulouse killings and the rise of the hard-left candidate,Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have re-shuffled the cards for the first round. But not yet for the second round.

Three opinion polls yesterday put Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande neck and neck in the first round on 22 April. Two polls put Mr Sarkozy in the lead; another gave Mr Hollande a narrow advantage. All three polls suggested that the Socialist challenger had maintained, or even extended, his second round lead.

For all his talk of a "sincere", unscripted campaign, President Sarkozy's posture, or imposture – the man of the people against the elite – is carefully calculated. In almost every big election since 1981, the skittish French electorate has turned against the incumbent.

The President's record is patchy. His behaviour in office has angered some centre-right voters. He has failed to deliver the growth and prosperity that he promised. So Mr Sarkozy has chosen to go on the attack. He is a pragmatic rebel who happens to live in the Elysée Palace. François Hollande is the limp favourite of the Parisian media and political power structure

This is, however, the same song as in 2007. Even the best performer might find it hard to win the Eurovision Song Contest with the same song two years running.

Chancellor warming to 'Merkollande'

Forget "Merkozy" and get ready for "Merkollande". The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, appears to be weighing up the growing prospect of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, becoming the next French president.

According to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, Ms Merkel has performed a major French presidential election policy U-turn and made a series of "unofficial contacts" with the Hollande camp after noting that his popularity had recently outstripped that of President Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls.

"There have only been message exchanges between advisers, but it's certainly better to prepare for change than to rule out such a possibility," the magazine quoted Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French Socialist parliamentary leader, as saying.

Not only did the Chancellor initially pledge her support for Mr Sarkozy, she also agreed to campaign alongside him. The driving force behind the Merkel-Sarkozy alliance had been their commitment to upholding the European fiscal pact which obliges the 25 EU member states which have signed up to the agreement to enforce greater budget discipline.

Tony Paterson

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

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

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee