The modernising face of France's Socialist Party, Segolene Royal, has certainly seen better days. At one time, she was enchanting the electorate and enjoyed a marginal lead over the man they call Sarko. Now, however, Royal's campaign has quite nearly crashed and burned, opening the door for another modernizer, the aforementioned Nicolas Sarkozy, to run away with the vote.
Now, I would like to state for the record that Royal seems like sincere woman and she certainly did have big plans for the Socialists by questioning the 35-hour work week and championing zero tolerance law-and-order as she did. However, this sounds uncomfortably like Britain's New Labour. Ms. Royal would only have faced harsh criticism from within her own party and the far Left in France have rejected her. So, with the a hefty chunk of the Left deserting her and no significant votes to count on from the Right, Royal pretty much looks finished.
Enter Sarkozy, who is the candidate for Jacques Chirac's party, the center-right UMP. But Sarkozy is nothing like Chirac. Jacques Chirac was a conservative under a French definition of the term only — a jealous Gaullist, paranoid of the "Anglos." Sarkozy, in sharp contrast, enjoys close relations with Britain — he was recently feted in London by Tony Blair — and has expressed admiration for, and a desire to work with, the United States.
Chirac has refused to endorse Sarkozy, due to both personal as well as political matters. In fact, according to Jonathan Fenby in his book On The Brink: The Trouble With France, it is par for the course that French politicians from the same party fall out and refuse to lend their support once an underling vies for the top job. Fenby writes, rather amusingly, "Take any element of French life and it will almost certainly contain rival factions." Sarkozy is Giscard d'Estaing to Chirac's De Gaulle. Envious of Sarkozy's ambition and popularity, and disgusted by his transatlanticism, Chirac will leave politics silently and sullenly.