How the British are consuming French politics…

The way thing stand at the moment it looks like the Sego/Sarko stand off is only likely to finish one way, a victory for the hyperactive, ambitious, workaholic Nicolas Sarkozy over the Socialist Party’s hopeful Ségolène Royal (in French). French Election 2007 reports on the latest TNS-Sofres poll:

According to the poll, 8% of voters are still deciding between the two candidates, and another 7% are deciding whether or not to abstain. The poll also reaffirms the rapid shift of Bayrou supporters from Sarkozy to Royal. Before last weekend’s vote a majority of Bayrou voters were planning on voting Sarkozy in the runoff, but now 51% of the French believe that a Bayrou-Royal alliance would be natural, against only 33% for the same with Sarkozy. To reinforce this point, 52% of voters believe that Royal’s victory would most likely allow take into account Bayrou’s ideas; only 27% believe a Sarkozy victory would do the same.

But if this is bad news for Sarkozy at the center, he still has support in one of the most crucial arenas. 64% of the French believe Sarkozy will bring “many or quite some changes”, with Royal lagging at a dismal 38%. Will voters vote for change over the center? At this point, it appears so.

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this potential revolution in French political life is the way it is being consumed elsewhere. Not least in Blairite Britain, where, according to Martin Kettle, a significant chunk of the left of centre are privately backing right of centre Sarkozy and his promise of reforms:

From Downing Street Sarkozy is seen as everything that Jacques Chirac is not. A Sarkozy victory, they believe there, would mean an end to Chirac’s anti-Americanism, a short practical treaty in place of the EU constitution, and the prospect of greater flexibility on trade, regulation and the European budget. So dazzling are these prizes after the frustrations of the past that the major uncongenial aspects of a Sarkozy win – his hostility to Turkey, his protectionism and his support for the CAP – are simply ignored.

Sarkozy’s most prominent rise to fame was for remarks made during the riots in certain Parisian suburbs following the deaths of two young Muslim men of African descent. It did not endear him to many on the left. But Kettle, taking a straw poll in Westminster finds untrouble consensus on the right, but conflicted emotions on the left:

Only the Conservatives have no mixed feelings; they are all for Sarkozy. Among Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs the reaction is far more conflicted. In many cases they answered that the heart said Ségo but the head said Sarko. A Labour cabinet minister was one of the few unambiguous Royal backers. A Lib Dem pro-European was among the most trenchant supporters of Sarkozy.

Gordon Brown is ambiguous on this question too. He knows Sarkozy from their days as fellow finance ministers. The Browns and Sarkozys have dined à quatre. Most importantly of all, Brown is comfortable with Sarkozy’s deregulatory economic instincts and with his openness to America. And yet Brown hesitates. When Sarkozy launched his election campaign in London, Blair met him while Brown made his excuses. Brown has put out feelers towards the Royal camp too, which Blair has not. But which side is Brown really on?

In truth, Kettle believes, Brown is going to be stuck with a Foreign Policy hand he can do little with, without the help and cooperation of others:

Those who expect Brown to strike out on a markedly more progressive foreign policy are therefore likely to be disappointed on matters of substance. But that is not Brown’s fault. It is the hand that he is fated to play by history and politics. Brown can say he wants to bring peace to the Middle East, end suffering in Darfur or reduce the nuclear build-up. But he can only do that in alliance with others, and maybe not even then. He will deal with Sarkozy or Royal because he has to, not because he wants to.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty