The Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has announced a bid for the French presidency, saying that, as a woman with working-class, immigrant roots, she will try to repair the anger and divisions in French society and win back low-income workers disillusioned with the left.
"The Republican model is disintegrating before our eyes," Ms Hidalgo told supporters gathered on the docks in Rouen, Normandy. She warned of growing inequalities, saying: "I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had."
Ms Hidalgo (62) is the first female mayor of Paris and is best known for her campaign to reduce the number of cars in the French capital, increase the number of bicycle lanes and make the city greener. This has earned her popularity among a firm base of largely well-off urban voters on the left, but it has proved polarising and angered the car lobby.
Ms Hidalgo has a difficult task ahead. The Socialist party has been floundering since the one-term presidency of François Hollande, who ended up so unpopular he did not even seek a second mandate in 2017. Working-class voters have deserted the party, which some feared could disappear after its historically low score of 6 per cent at the last presidential election in 2017.
Ms Hidalgo, who has the backing of a new generation of younger Socialist mayors seeking to reinvent the party, has centred her campaign firmly on her story of "overcoming class prejudice" to win back voters. She cited her "humble" upbringing on a housing estate near Lyon in order to appeal to workers and those who have marched for more "social justice" in protest movements over the past two years, including the gilets jaunes (yellow vests).
Ms Hidalgo described how she had arrived in France from Andalucia at the age of two with her Spanish parents fleeing Franco's dictatorship. "I owe my freedom to school," she said. "Here in the port of Rouen, I think of my dad, who worked in the shipyards of Cadiz, and my mother, a seamstress." She chose to become French aged 14 and said she still kept her nationality decree close by as a sign of her attachment to France.
In her speech, Ms Hidalgo did not name the centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, who intends to run for re-election in April and whom polls show voters see as competent but out of touch with ordinary people. But she said she wanted to end the "contempt, arrogance, disdain and condescendence of those who know so little of our lives but decide everything without us, that creates so much anger and revolt".
Mathieu Klein, the Socialist mayor of Nancy, said Ms Hidalgo's "personal story and working-class roots show the values of the Republic are for everyone".
Ms Hidalgo, who wants to re-industrialise France, bring back factories from abroad, install a low-carbon economy and raise salaries, has spent the summer trying to build her profile outside Paris by travelling the country from villages to small towns.
She is expected to easily win her party’s backing in an internal vote, but faces the major challenge of division on the French left. The left is fragmented into several different parties, with potentially seven candidates standing, splitting the vote. Ms Hidalgo is polling at 7-9 per cent, too low to make it to the final round.
The Socialist senator Patrick Kanner, a supporter of Ms Hidalgo, recently described the left as "confetti". Hidalgo's supporters hope other candidates might quit and back her. But some, such as the leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, are unlikely to ever stand down. Ms Hidalgo argues that, in Paris, she has always proved polls wrong.
Polls show the April 2022 presidential race could be a rerun of 2017, pitting the centrist Macron against the far-right Marine Le Pen. But the contest remains open. The full list of candidates will not be known until the winter, and Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing party, Les Republicains, is still to decide who it will run.
Ms Le Pen kicked off her third presidential campaign on Sunday with a staunchly anti-immigration speech in which she vowed to crack down on parts of France she claimed had been “Talibanised”. She is centring her campaign on the fight for individual “liberties” – hoping to capitalise on the small but regular weekend street protests against Mr Macron’s health pass, which requires people to show proof of a vaccination, negative test or recovery from Covid before accessing certain spaces such as bars and restaurants.
In an attempt to claim that her anti-system National Rally party could be trusted in government, Ms Le Pen has avoided adopting an outright anti-vaccination stance. She said: “We’re not against vaccines but we believe in vaccine freedom – everyone should be able to choose for themselves.” She added: “If every Saturday hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets shouting ‘Liberty!’ it’s because there is a malaise.”
Le Pen, who took over the far-right party from her father in 2011, will temporarily hand over caretaker leadership to Jordan Bardella (25) during her presidential campaign as she seeks to expand her voter base. – Guardian