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Can Hollande turn London’s French voters Socialist?

Presidential frontrunner François Hollande made a campaign stop in the UK capital on Wednesday in the hope of seducing its booming French community. A London-based professor of French politics explains why the Socialist candidate might be in luck.

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French presidential hopeful François Hollande arrived in London on Wednesday as part of his overseas campaign trail. Meeting British opposition leader Ed Miliband for roast beef and yorkshire puddings, the Socialist candidate then went on to make a speech at King’s College London, where he was expected to reach out to the UK’s 400,000 French residents.

Philippe Marlière, a London resident for the past 18 years and professor of French politics at University College London, tells FRANCE 24 why this year the Socialist candidate could be in luck among the traditionally right-leaning French community in London.

FRANCE 24: Are French expatriates in London expected to vote for Sarkozy or Hollande?

Philippe Marlière: London-based French voters have traditionally voted rightwing. But over the past 20 years, there has been a shift in the make-up of the expatriates here. It’s no longer rich diplomats and businessmen flying in for a few years. There are increasing numbers of ordinary people – young; lower middle class; students, bar and restaurant workers, teachers, private and public service workers; people with very modest incomes. This is a population of which many permanently live in London, some hold dual nationality, their children go to school here, so they’re very much integrated. Because of their social and economic background, these people are not going to vote for Sarkozy.

The French government puts the number of French nationals living in the UK (not including Scotland) at between 350,000 and 400,000.

Some 55% of those live in London, which is considered France’s ‘sixth city’ in terms of numbers.

French locals call their adopted capital ‘Paris on Thames’.

Even in 2007, Sarkozy only just won the UK vote [he beat Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal with 53% to her 47% - see map below]. It wasn’t the kind of emphatic victory of yesteryear. So this time round we’re expecting an even closer result in London, and perhaps even a Socialist win.

F24: What do London-based expatriates expect from their cross-channel president?
 
Marlière: Who is president in France has almost no affect on us in terms of policy. But symbolically it means a lot. When you live abroad you still care about your country and who is representing your country. And the mood here is that Sarkozy is doing a poor job. People are fed up with him – the vulgarity, the bling bling, his policies that favour the rich. There is a profound sense of social justice among the French, and they feel that Sarkozy has let them down in that sense.
 
While Hollande is certainly not the president they’ve been dreaming of – even among leftwing voters – there’s a real sense of ‘anybody but Sarkozy’ right now.

F24: Why didn't British Prime Minister David Cameron meet with Hollande?

Marlière: Cameron is playing wait-and-see. He doesn’t want to jeopardise his relationship with Sarkozy by meeting Hollande. And if Hollande wins, which is looking increasingly likely, then his decision will be easily justified. He will simply congratulate Hollande on election day and offer to meet with him as soon as possible. All leaders do that [on recent visits to Germany, Italy and Spain Hollande did not meet Angela Merkel, Mario Monti or Mariano Rajoy either]. It’s not considered an affront. It’s simply being prudent.

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