Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The French presidential race is getting even more interesting

If you haven’t been paying attention, left(ish) candidate Segolene Royal has spent much of the last few weeks making something of a tit of herself, with gaffes galore and all kinds of silly little errors that had piled up to lose her much support. Up until a couple of days ago, right(ish) candidate Nicholas Sarkozy was ahead by somewhere between 8 and 10 points in the polls, depending on who you believed.

In the last few days, however, Royal has made a remarkable recovery – back almost neck and neck with Sarkozy, with some polls even giving her the lead.

That in itself is pretty impressive – what is more so (to those of us who haven’t been paying as close attention as we would have liked) is that this is no longer a two horse race.

After the last time, when far-right nutter Jean-Marie Le Pen got through to the final round of the preseidential elections because no one reckoned a thrid party type was really a threat, or when John Kerry surged from nowhere to take the Democratic presidential nomination, you’d have thought we would have all remembered to watch the entire field rather than just the two with the shortest odds (note to self: check out US presidential candidates other than the obvious McCain / Guiliani / Clinton / Obama options).

Even so, many of us – myself included – utterly failed to spot the rise of centrist UDF candidate Francois Bayrou.

So here we have a dilemma. Who is this chap who’s come from pretty much nowhere to being a serious contender in just the last couple of weeks? He’s a centrist promising to appoint a cross-party government, so he sounds like my kind of guy – unless, of course, he’s a French equivalent of the current Lib Dems…

Thankfully, the day I start paying attention to the guy, The Times’ Charles Bremner has a handy summary of what Bayrou’s all about. I also note that I’d missed this Guardian overview from Wednesday, and now everyone seems to be on his case, with more pieces from the BBC and the International Herald Tribune (the latter having a handy overview of some of his foreign policy positions).

Then try France Decides on Bayrou entering the race (back at the start of December), and again earlier this month as Bayrou started to make gains (and again on the non-threat of Le Pen this time). You could also do far worse than checking out French Élection 2007’s Bayrou section – the most recent mentioning the surprising recent poll finding that if Bayrou made it through to the second round, he’d probably win.

Needless to say, interest in the guy is hotting up – as his mentions on Technorati can attest:

The particularly interesting thing is that that chart is out of date even now, five minutes after I did the screengrab – the last bar is now shooting up even further, with the first five pages of a Technorati search for Bayrou being posts from the last two hours. Sarkozy may be averaging over 1,000 blog mentions per day (it’s harder to check Royal due to her generic surname, but it’s likely similar), but third-party candidate Bayrou has gone from around 100 to around 750 per day in less than a month. Bloggers are obviously not representative of the wider population in any way, shape or form, but that’s not bad going.

Right – I’m off to check up more on this guy. I always prefer to back the underdog in any case – and this could be one with a chance of winning, for a change. (Of course, what’s more likely is that he’ll merely leech a few votes from Sarkozy, giving Royal a better chance, but still – it’s two months to go until the first round… Anything could happen…)