French socialists choose Benoit Hamon as presidential nominee

Far-left candidate easily beats Valls in primary as Fillon struggles over scandal

Benoit Hamon, who yesterday saluted “the living, vibrant left” and promised to unite socialists and ecologists. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Benoit Hamon, who yesterday saluted “the living, vibrant left” and promised to unite socialists and ecologists. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

 

The French Socialist Party on Sunday chose Benoit Hamon (49), a rebel from the far left of the party, by a wide margin to represent them in the first round of the presidential election on April 23rd.

Mr Hamon won the nomination with 58.65 per cent of the vote to 41.35 per cent for the former prime minister Manuel Valls, with 60 per cent of votes counted.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Hamon saluted “the living, vibrant left” and promised to unite socialists and ecologists. He addressed himself to young voters, who voted massively for him, saying, “Each generation is a new people . . . It is up to you to say what kind of France you want to live in.”

Citing Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Islamist terrorism in the same breath, Mr Hamon said, “If you have fear in your bellies, we will end up with the candidate of fear” – an allusion to Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN).

Mr Valls accepted the results “without rancour” and defended his own and President François Hollande’s record, predicting that history would judge them favourably.

Wave of rejection

Mr Valls resigned in December to seek the nomination. He is the latest victim of a wave of rejection of experienced politicians that has struck Mr Hollande, who decided not to stand for re-election rather than face a humiliating defeat; former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppé, both of whom lost in the primary of the conservative party, Les Républicains (LR).

The campaign was portrayed as a contest between responsible social democrats, led by Mr Valls, and a utopian left embodied by Mr Hamon. His desire to establish a universal basic income became the main issue.

The triumph of the far left in the French primary continues the trend of “Pasok-isation,” after the Greek socialist party was supplanted by the more left-wing Syriza. The same phenomenon has occurred in Britain and Spain.

Earlier in the day, the LR candidate François Fillon staged a show of strength by holding a rally for 15,000 people in northeast Paris.

Scandal

When he won the primary with 66.49 per cent of the conservative vote last November, Mr Fillon looked certain to become France’s next president. On Sunday he fought back against the “Penelope-gate” scandal, in which he is accused of paying his wife parliamentary funds for a fake job.

Despite a defiant speech in which Mr Fillon boasted of his “thick skin” and swore he “will not be intimidated”, he appeared embattled and exhausted.

There was more damaging news over the weekend, when it emerged that Mr Fillon’s children Marie and Charles, whom he hired with parliamentary funds when he was a senator, were not qualified lawyers at the time. And according to the Journal du Dimanche, Mr Fillon received €21,000 from a slush fund established by conservative senators to use up allowances for parliamentary assistants.

“Three months before the presidential election, as if by chance, they made up a scandal,” Mr Fillon said. “Let them attack me to my face, but leave my wife alone.”

Mr Fillon accused Mr Hamon of “anaesthetising” Socialist voters and said it was “unbearable to me to hear that France has no future other than the universal basic income”.

The LR candidate also said that Emmanuel Macron, the centre-left candidate who refused to participate in the Socialist primary, and who is now tied with him for second place after Ms Le Pen, represents Mr Hollande’s record.

He said Ms Le Pen’s programme, which emphasises social spending for the poor and unemployed, was that of the French communist party in the 1970s.