France comes out for Jospin in poll rout

Victory has fallen into the lap of the Socialists

Two months ago Lionel Jospin was booed and jostled as a yesterday's man by a leftist crowd at an anti- National Front demonstration in Strasbourg.

A month ago, he was thought to have no chance of winning a snap parliamentary election which had caught his Socialist Party ill-prepared (just as President Jacques Chirac had intended it would).

Last night, Mr Jospin, 59, was Prime Minister-elect. President Chirac's strategy, and his presidency, were in ruins. France faced five years of left-right power-sharing, or "co-habitation", in which Mr Jospin, as leader of the parliamentary majority, will have the whip's hand.

How did Mr Jospin do it? In all truth, he didn't; the victory, to a large extent, fell into his lap. The Socialist leader has once again proved an energetic and able campaigner. But his main achievement in the past few weeks has been to offer a likeable and competent alternative to an inordinately unpopular government running a desperately incompetent campaign.

There is no clear decision by the French people to turn to the left; there is no wide, popular enthusiasm for, or confidence in, the Socialist party, and certainly not in its Communist allies. In the first round of the election, the two political formations in the centre-right government attracted less than one in four of the possible voters. But the Socialists and the other left-wing parties attracted the votes of just over one in four of the potential electorate. This is the lowest first-round support for the ultimate governing parties in nearly 40 years of the Fifth Republic.

There was a clear rejection last night of the deflationary policy of the centre-right government, which put the shrinking of the welfare state and the private sector, and the creation of the European single currency, ahead of tackling unemployment. President Chirac promised to do the opposite when he was elected two years ago, and has paid the price.

The striking fact is that the French electorate has turned out its government (but not its President) at every opportunity it has been given to do so in the past two decades. The last time a French parliamentary majority was re-elected was in 1978. In the five parliamentary elections since then, France has moved left, right, left, right and then left again. No other country in Europe has such a record of political fractiousness, or, increasingly it has to be said, contempt for politicians of all persuasions.

Mr Jospin can look forward to five years in power. But, unlike Tony Blair in Britain, he does not inherit a benign economy. With unemployment at 12.8 per cent and growth stuttering, he has little room for manoeuvre. The outgoing government had placed all its bets on the medium and long- term benefits of tax cuts, and a strong single currency. Mr Jospin's prescriptions are mostly short-term: government action to create 700,000 jobs for young people, half in the state sector, and a gradual move to a 35-hour week without loss of pay. A Jospin government will continue some of the state- shrinking reforms begun by Prime Minister Alain Juppe's ill-fated government, and quietly abandon others. There is little here to improve France's long- term competitivity.

And what of the single currency? It now seems impossible that the euro will arrive both strong and on time. Mr Jospin campaigned for a more relaxed interpretation of the Maastricht guidelines for Economic and Monetary Union (Emu). He is not prepared to impose further short-term budgetary or fiscal pain on the stuttering French economy to meet the Emu targets. He is not prepared to join a single currency which excludes Italy and Spain, possibly placing French farmers and manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

It is clear that the mood of the French people backs Mr Jospin rather than the old policy of Emu-or-bust. But the single currency, if it is not to be a disaster on birth, has to meet the test of the international bond markets (something Mr Jospin prefers to forget).

With a single currency civil war still raging in the German establishment, the advent of the Left in France may provide an opportunity for some sort of global Emu compromise; or it could derail the euro altogether.

The great unknown is how President Chirac will take to co-habitation and whether he will survive it. On the surface, there is no reason why he should not rub along as well as President Mitterrand did. Mr Chirac is a clubbable man and a man without a fixed ideology. He should manage, as Mitterrand did, to co-exist with the opposition, while trying to trip them up when he can. The uncertainty comes from the tangle of investigations under way into the dubious finances of his RPR party. Without centre-right hands on all the levers of power, one or two of these investigations might come uncomfortably close to the President himself.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living