Juppe and Jospin redraw the political battle-lines Jospin's back as Juppe is relaunched in Disneyland

Click to follow
Exhibiting a bizarre mixture of defiance and contrition following his recent political difficulties, the French prime minister Alain Juppe was yesterday elected leader of the Gaullist RPR party in succession to Jacques Chirac.

Mr Juppe, the only candidate, received 93 per cent of the more than 70,000 votes cast during a day of stage-managed festivities in the Disneyland conference centre outside Paris.

In a victory speech designed to stress party unity, rally the faithful and reassert the authority of his government and its loyalty to Mr Chirac's campaign promises, Mr Juppe made one brief allusion to his brush with the law over his cut-price Paris flat.

He had, he said, endured a test "which will mark me for a long time". Mr Juppe and members of his family who benefited from subsidised flats have undertaken to move out by the end of the year.

Yesterday's occasion was attended by 20,000 delegates, who arrived startled by early morning Disney tourists festooned with Mickey Mouse memorabilia. Inside the giant marquee, they were treated to an occasion replete with tricolours, jazz band, T-shirted cheerleaders and stylised crosses of Lorraine, all clearly designed to arrest the sharp fall in Mr Juppe's poll ratings and revive the spirit of triumph in which Mr Chirac was elected President five months ago.

The election of Mr Juppe as Gaullist leader brought to a close a weekend that could have been dubbed "French politics - the relaunch." On Saturday, the Socialist party had completed the formal election of Lionel Jospin as the party's new first secretary. Mr Jospin, the Socialist defeated with honour in the presidential elections, obtained more than 94 per cent of the poll of party members in a turnout of 66 per cent.

Mr Jospin, who topped the first round poll in the presidential election and achieved an unexpectedly high 47 per cent of the vote in the run-off against Mr Chirac, is now effectively leader of the left-wing opposition. In a rousing speech, reminiscent of his later presidential campaign addresses, Mr Jospin called on party activists to work on a return to power. He also named a new party secretariat, which combines some of his campaign team with members of the previous leadership, including the outgoing first secretary, Henri Emmanuelli.

Although the left has lost the presidency and has barely 20 per cent of parliamentary seats, it is politically stronger than it looks - because of the high public esteem in which Mr Jospin is held and the sharp fall in the popularity of the president and the prime minister.

While Mr Juppe's share of the poll to become Gaullist leader was close to that of Mr Jospin's in becoming Socialist leader, there was a distinct lack of comparable warmth at yesterday's gathering. The "Young Gaullists" had to be prompted to chant: "Juppe, Juppe" at appropriate moments, and were still handing out mass produced Juppe placards as the afternoon session opened. At times, Mr Juppe seemed in danger of being upstaged by his erstwhile rival for the RPR leadership, Philippe Seguin, whose every appearance was greeted with loud cheers.

Mr Seguin's expression of support for Mr Juppe was the bare minimum and his two main calls - for structural reforms of the state and cutting the budget deficit, including a cut in interest rates which - could only be achieved by dropping the "strong franc" policy - set considerable distance between himself and Mr Juppe.