Student Daze

‘A Lesson to an Embattled Leader’

An example of an article from my ‘heady’ time writing for Leeds Student.

The presidential election in France and Sarkozy’s electoral difficulties offer Cameron a stark warning for what he may face.

The first round of the French presidential election has produced a remarkable mix of results. The centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy seems unlikely to retain his presidency against stiff challenge from the uninspiring socialist Francois Hollande who currently leads the polls.

If Sarkozy loses the presidency, he would be only the second in the Fifth Republic (1958 to date) and Hollande will be only the second socialist presidency in the same time. Similarly remarkable, Sarkozy seems to have an extraordinary challenge from far right: the National Front leader Marine le Pen gained a record-breaking 18%, behind Hollande’s 28% and Sarkozy’s 27%.

Sarkozy would have hopes to convert these far right voters into his broader centre right umbrella in the second round run-off against Hollande. But Marine Le Pen has refused to endorse his presidency; she states will leave her ballot card blank, as neither Hollande nor Sarkozy is to be ‘trusted’.

Her abstention may have sounded the death-knell for Sarkozy’s campaign in particular. But how have a socialist candidate, best known for being dull and uninspiring, and a radical far right party gained such a large percentage of the vote over the incumbent system traditionally favouring the centre-right?

Much of it has to do with Sarkozy himself; many people dislike his seeming arrogance and believe that he is not a statesmen let alone a president. His perceived condescension on the domestic stage and mishandling of the Euro crisis has led many to become dissatisfied with his premiership. Rather than being drawn to any of the other candidates’ message in particular, they are simply being driven away by a personal disdain for Sarkozy.

Does this not sound familiar: an uninspiring socialist opponent, a challenge from the right and accusations of arrogance? Is Sarkozy a portent for what is to come for the centre-right leader and embattled Prime Minister, David Cameron, particularly in the upcoming local elections?

Facing Ed Miliband across the dispatch box, David Cameron has consistently seemed to dominate the leader of the opposition in most of their encounters.  But ignominiously recalled to the House of Commons to make a statement regarding the evidence that Jeremy Hunt had broken the ministerial code of conduct, Cameron looked visibly unsettled. Cameron opted for his comfort zone defence – dismiss and belittle (Labour grandee Dennis Skinner was told to ‘take his pension at anytime’). Nevertheless Miliband managed to levy a substantial, unremitting and damaging attack at the PM for defending the culture secretary.

The last few months have not been the Conservative’s best. The Budget was toxic. While the Tories truly believed in the merits of the 50p tax, the attack on grannies, pasties and caravans just seemed to be politically suicidal in the polls. The ‘out of touch posh boys’ jibe from Cameron’s own backbench MP Nadine Dorres will sting following such horrendous reception of a budget intended to innocuous, but branded as favouring the wealthy.

The economic credibility that gave Cameron and Osborne an edge over Labour is rapidly dwindling as we slide back into recession and unemployment begins to climb. If Hollande does succeed to champion a growth-based agenda in the European theatre, Cameron’s hard and fast austerity and needs-must based rationale will look like an ideological choice rather than a political necessity.

The sustained pressure on the Cameron and the Tories is beginning to show; a recent YouGov poll have the Conservatives at a dismal 29% compared with Labour’s 40%, less to do with Labour’s merits and more with the dismal incompetence of the Coalition government over the last few months. The austerity has aggravated many; Universities, the NHS and the civil service have all faced impassioned response. Even if the Lib Dem’s are set to experience a cull, Nigel Farage’s right of centre UKIP may begin to steal support from disaffected Conservative voters too. It seems at this stage, the ‘Anyone-But-Cameron’ candidate is the beginning to become the maxim of the electorate.

While there is hope for Cameron, (a Boris Johnson win in London) there is also the shadow of Murdoch. Brooks, Coulson, Hunt and now the Culture Select Committee report may all see Cameron in an increasingly precarious proximity to the apparent villain of the day and his economic, political and moral credibility may run dry.

The man who set about ‘detoxifying’ the Tory party should learn his lessons from his Gallic counterpart and begin detoxifying himself.

Here’s a link to the article in print, online:

Other articles include:

‘The Case for Secularism’

‘Less Stick, More Carrot’

‘Democracy in Russia’ or ‘Putin: Once and Future King’

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