I was in Paris for part of the aftermath of former Presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s spectacular fall. The mood in the Parti Socialiste at the time was one of real anxiety, for all the considerable unpopularity of President Sarkozy. DSK had looked like a shoo in not just for the candidature but for the Presidency.
As attention turned to who might step up, none of the options seemed obvious or particularly appealing. Sarkozy began to hope again.
Yet as Sarko and Carla left the Elysee yesterday and Francois Hollande took the reins, he looked and sounded the part. It seemed odd indeed to think there had been so many doubts.
I am aware, as doubtless he is, that the hard part now begins, that a nice suit, confident body language and the continuing adrenaline of the campaign will not take you that far. But a good start is important – and he made it.
There is always a fair amount of pomp surrounding the President, but it is clear he has given instructions that he wants to cut down on the stylistic excess of the Sarko era. I thought the image of him smiling, coatless, waving from the top of a car in the pouring rain, was a good one. The lightning strike on his plane to Germany added to the sense of drama, and the metaphor of storms in global politics and economics.
He looked confident at his press conference with Angela Merkel and with Parliamentary elections ahead he was clearly not for trimming on the campaign promises on which he was elected. So higher taxes on the wealthy will come. The fight for a recalibrated bailout and EU deal will continue. The focus on growth, and the doubts that austerity is the only way forward, will intensify.
On Monday I spoke at a dinner with Axelle Lemaire, the terrific PS candidate for the vast constituency of Northern Europe, made up of ten countries including the UK. Some of the businessmen present clearly had worries and Axelle did a god job of assuring them that Hollande understood the importance of the role of entrepreneurs and finance in rescuing the economy. But I made the point that one of the reasons he won was widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and a feeling that those who least caused the crisis have been the most punished. (back to my stuck record on the need for a major inquiry into the global financial crash).
If anything Frau Merkel looked the more nervous last night whereas Hollande appeared pretty sure of his position. He did not come across as someone who had never held ministerial office before. Far from it.
David Cameron will have watched nervously from the sidelines to which he has relegated himself with his silly veto that wasn’t a veto. Nervous because of the bridge building he will have to do with Hollande having so clearly backed Sarko. Nervous because what is happening in the eurozone has huge implications for Britain and he is not as big a player in the debate as Merkel and Hollande. And nervous because a lot of the things being said about Hollande a few months ago echo the kind of things being said about Ed Miliband until Labour started pulling ahead in the polls.
Vive Le Parti Travailliste!