Jonathan Miller

    Hidalgo has trashed Paris. Can she do the same for France?

    Hidalgo has trashed Paris. Can she do the same for France?
    (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
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    Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, whose reign has submerged the city in debt and rubbish, is the latest no-hoper to declare her candidacy for the 2022 presidential election. She’s in fifth place in the polls, although these are rarely credible at this stage and currently ignore several candidates for reasons that seem obscure.

    Hidalgo, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, is to run on a platform of social justice. She says she is doing so with humility, although this is not a characteristic that has so far been evident in her personality. Ruthless ambition comes closer. 

    It is rather obvious that Hidalgo has zero chance of finishing in the top two of the first round of voting next April. There are no conceivable circumstances in which she will become president of France. That hasn’t inhibited the usual left-wing soup-servers from bigging her up, however.

    She’s ranked behind the ultra-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Her national popularity of 8 per cent hasn’t moved in two years. The left vote combined is still behind that of either President Emmanuel Macron or his main rival, Rassemblement National’s Marine Le Pen. Those two are level pegging at between 23 to 25 per cent each.

    Le Pen confirmed her own candidacy on Sunday, to the despair of even her own rightist supporters who know she can never win. She was crushed by Macron five years ago and against François Hollande five years before that. President Macron is still playing coy, claiming improbably that he is entirely focused on Covid, economic revival and European renaissance, although there’s no question he’s running. There are many reasons to run for president in France, other than any expectation of becoming president: vanity; desire to raise political profile; auditioning for another job.

    It’s easy to see vanity as Hidalgo’s motive. But raising her political profile from Paris to the national stage might not be wise. Her latest gimmick, imposing a blanket 30 kph (roughly 20 mph) speed limit within Paris, might endear her to the car-hating greens with whom she’s in municipal coalition, but it’s made her loathed by suburbanites who need to bring vehicles into the city, to be confronted by traffic that’s worse than ever. And it’s hard to see her left-green politics gaining much traction in la France profonde.

    Someone who is, more surprisingly, not running for president is former prime minister Édouard Philippe. He said over the weekend that he will support Macron unconditionally in 2022, despite having been sacked by him last year for being more popular than his boss. Perhaps he wants his old job back when Macron gets bored of Jean Castex, the incumbent premier who has risen and will doubtless fall with nary a trace.

    Otherwise, there is not much detectable momentum in the presidential peloton. Michel Barnier, who fascinates British journalists because of his role as the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has attracted some attention by promising a referendum on stopping immigration for five years and restricting the influence of the EU legal system. One can only admire the naked opportunism. I assume he’s angling to be prime minister as a reward for weakening Marine Le Pen.

    The centre-right Républicains are atomised and their leading light, Xavier Bertrand, has officially walked out and stated he won’t even participate in the party’s primary. It’s rather difficult to know what any of them is offering.

    An exception to the undistinguished field of secondary competitors might be the assumed but undeclared candidacy of the silver-tongued polemicist Éric Zemmour, ignored by the mainstream polls and loathed by the bien pensants for his nationalism. He has just been ordered to stop presenting his popular nightly television show on CNews by the media regulator on the basis that it offers him exposure unavailable to competitors.

    Zemmour has been attacked by both Le Pen and Macron’s own spokesman, suggesting that he is taken more seriously than admitted. He’s starting a national media tour to promote his new book, already the number one best seller on French Amazon.

    This is likely to attract a lot of attention. He has a talent for tapping into the ennui of French voters, even if he’s still to present a rounded political vision. Perhaps his book might remedy that.

    My focus group at the Café de la Paix in my bellwether village can be said to be completely indifferent to Hidalgo, Barnier, Bertrand and indeed to almost all of the candidates, although with a trace of curiosity about Zemmour. The boar are abundant this year and, roasted with garlic, currently look more appetising than anything on offer from the politicians.