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Benoît Hamon wins French socialist nomination as party sees a reassuring bump in the polls

Benoit Hamon wins in the French socialist primary EPA/Jeremy Lempin. EPA/Jeremy Lempin

Benoît Hamon has been officially named as the Socialist Party’s candidate for the 2017 presidential election. His path to victory has appeared fairly secure for a while. He recently secured 36% of the vote in the first round before this latest vote, finishing ahead of his main rival, the former prime minister Manuel Valls on 32%. But the real clincher was the declaration by Arnaud Montebourg (17%) that he would support Hamon in the second round. In the end, Hamon took 58.7% of the vote to Valls’ 41.3%.

There was some speculation in the week running up to the vote that the right of the Socialist party would mobilise and that an increased turnout would work in Valls’s favour, but that never quite materialised. Despite throwing various claims at his rival, Valls could not claw back the deficit. The final televised debate between the two men passed off without major incident, even though Hamon appeared to be rowing back from some of his promises on his much-vaunted universal minimum wage.

Cranking up the machine

For Hamon, the hard work begins now. It is one thing to win a primary but quite another to exert your authority over the party that elected you. In the week between the first and second rounds, a number of prominent figures on the social democratic right-wing of the party had been suggesting that if Hamon wins, they would rally to his centre-left rival Emmanuel Macron, who is standing as an independent candidate at the helm of his own political movement. The most prominent Hamon sceptic is former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.

Hamon does, however, have a whole party machine behind him – and you need one of those to run a campaign. It still remains to be seen whether either Macron’s En Marche! Movement is anything like as capable on the ground. The same goes for Hamon’s other main left-wing rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He too is running as an independent. The socialist machine might be rusty but it is at least tried and tested.

Manuel Valls was defeated by Hamon. EPA/Ian Langsdon

And in fact, thumping Valls in the run-off was not the only piece of good news for Hamon. Up until this point, it looked like the Socialist Party candidate – whoever they were – would be starting the main presidential race from an extremely weak position, in fifth place behind candidates from across the political spectrum, including the far right. But an opinion poll published by Le Figaro as the left-wing votes were being added up produced some surprising figures.

It places the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the lead, with 25% of votes, ahead of Fillon on 22% – not bad after the torrid week he has had with Penelopegate, in which he faces an investigation into alleged misuse of public funds. Then comes Macron on 21%. So far, so more-or-less what we expected. The real shock comes with Hamon now being credited with 15% of voting intentions (rather than the measly 6% being predicted for the Socialist candidate). That places him well ahead of Mélenchon, who is on 10% – far below his previous showing of around 14%.

This matters because Hamon is not very far, in many of his policies, from Mélenchon and might well gnaw away at his supporters. It also matters because Mélenchon has repeatedly insisted that whoever wins the Socialist Party contest should throw their lot in with him and the ecologist Yannick Jadot to create a “real” left-wing, red-green alliance. Hamon was unlikely ever to do that and, if the poll is right, he certainly doesn’t need to. Mélenchon, a man who could start a fight in an empty room, will be incandescent.

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