View from Paris: French left looks to its 'nearly man' to challenge Sarkozy

The permanent "nearly man" of French politics, François Hollande, emerged yesterday as the most likely centre-left presidential challenger to Nicolas Sarkozy in a spot opened up by the jailing of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

An opinion poll suggested Mr Hollande, 57, had sprung into a commanding lead in the Socialist party primary, which will take place in October. Mr Hollande, a former leader of the Parti Socialiste and the former partner of the defeated 2007 candidate Ségolène Royal, forecast months ago that next spring's presidential election would be won by a tortoise, rather than a hare.

He was already rising in the polls before Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York at the weekend, and in a poll for Le Parisien yesterday, he was the choice of 49 per cent of Socialist party members and 37 per cent of supporters of the wider French left. The party leader, Martine Aubry, had the support of 23 per cent of socialists. Ms Royal trailed in third with 10 per cent.

Much could yet change. Socialist voters have been stunned by the gravity of the accusations against the party's long-time – if undeclared – presidential favourite. Other candidates may yet enter the race, including Laurent Fabius, the former prime minister.

But as things stand, Mr Hollande looks well-placed to win the Socialist primary. President Sarkozy is reported to have told friends that Hollande was the Socialist candidate he most feared.

Mr Hollande predicted that voters would be in the mood for a "dull, serious" leader in the 2012 election after the "bling-bling presidency" of Mr Sarkozy. He also told supporters he was convinced he could defeat Mr Strauss-Kahn. He could not have foreseen that the "DSK" candidature would crash and burn.

Osborne dismisses Brown's prospects for IMF job

Chancellor George Osborne appeared to pour cold water on suggestions that Gordon Brown may be appointed as the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

Jockeying for the IMF's top job has stepped up following the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Asked yesterday whether Britain might benefit from providing the next head of the global finance watchdog, Mr Osborne said that the appointment should go to "the best person for the job" rather than being decided on the basis of applicants' nationality.

He added: "As it happens, Gordon Brown has not asked me directly or indirectly to be considered for the job. I'm at the moment focused on making sure we get the best person for the job."

Many diplomats have suggested that a European country should no longer be guaranteed stewardship – as has been the case in the past – over a global economy increasingly driven by emerging powers in Asia and Latin America.

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