Elephants in the conference room

Elephants in the conference room

The market is writing off the old men of the Parti Socialiste

The British press has revived its irregular interest in French politics over the weekend, enjoying what can be painted as some bitchy speeches from the platform at the Socialist party’s “summer university” in La Rochelle. The ire of the party’s senior “elephants” is mostly aimed (or at least interpreted to be aimed) at Ségolène Royal (pictured). According to the polls, Royal is the runaway preference of the electorate for the party’s presidential nomination next year, but her lead hasn’t caused her rivals to give up hope. The field is still crowded with putative candidates, including Lionel Jospin, François Hollande (Royal’s partner), Jack Lang, Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Jospin, the 2002 nominee who was eliminated in the first round of the presidental election, gave a speech which, judging by the coverage in the Telegraph and Independent, brought forth Paltrowesque tears. His call for a campaign where “ideas have to be explained” probably overstates his own powers as a persuasive explainer, but is the kind of message which goes down well among the committed activists of a party wherever it lies on the ideological map.

Jospin – and the other elephants – may not come across as very compelling to the French electorate. But even if none of them can actually seize the nomination, they may still disrupt and embitter the party enough to knock Royal out of the race. And this is where the betting markets seem to have it wrong; Royal is just under 2/1 on Betfair to win the presidency, boulevards ahead of any other socialist. This looks unattractive when the nomination is still in question. By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy, a little ahead at 5/4 favourite, seems much more assured of being the centre-right’s candidate, with his one-time nearest rival, Dominique de Villepin, involved in a messy libel case over the “Clearstream affair”.

Real betting value now might come from identifying the potential dark horses on the socialist side.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson returns on 10th September.

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