The right divided: Le Pen will not rescue Sarkozy

In the end it was no great surprise.

Marine Le Pen was unlikely ever to endorse President Sarkozy, however close some of their policies may recently have become.

The two viscerally loathe each other, and you can be sure that if the boot were on the other foot Sarkozy would renounce heel-lifts and admit David Cameron had been right all along before he would suggest anyone should vote for the ‘Front National’.

Le Pen refrained from telling her supporters to follow her lead and abstain on Sunday.

“You are free citizens! Vote as you wish”, she said. Which was big of her.

But she reminded them that Parliamentary elections are just around the corner.

These also use a run-off system in which the top two candidates in each seat go into a second round head-to-head.

There will be times, she reminded them, when a Front National candidate will be standing against one of François Hollande’s socialists.

“Who will Nicolas Sarkozy tell people to vote for then?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question, because everyone at the rally today knows the answer.

France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen Credit: PA

So what will the 6.5 million French men and women who voted for the far right do in four days time?

A totally unscientific survey of the crowd beneath the statue of Joan of Arc on the Rue de Rivoli this morning suggested that more than three-quarters will abstain, despising Sarkozy and Hollande with almost equal passion.

But these are the most committed, the least likely to compromise.

Pollsters who have dug down into the data from regular polling before and after round one of this election, tell us that roughly 60% will stay true to their right-wing instincts and move over to Sarkozy, that 20% or so will now vote for Hollande and the remaining 20% abstain.

France's President and candidate for re-election in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy Credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler

If this is anything like true it probably spells the end for the President.

With the left moving solidly behind Hollande, it would take almost all of Le Pen’s votes to move into Sarkozy’s column for him to pull off an unlikely victory, and he’s not going to get them.

The latest poll this morning suggests Hollande’s lead is a solid as ever: 54% to 46%, and it’s been that way for some months now.

There’s only one thing that can overturn a lead as solid as that in just four days, and that is tomorrow night’s debate.

Most election debates, in most countries, are hyped to the max by the commentators but change nothing.

By now most voters have heard and seen so much of both candidates, know their promises and soundbites so well, that it would take a truly calamitous performance by one of them to change a significant number of minds.

Hollande is going to be supremely cautious. He knows he’ll be the only one with anything to lose so is going to be ultra-cautious. Sarkozy is likely to win, for sure, but the polls on Thursday morning will probably be unchanged.

So it seems there will be no Fifth Cavalry riding to Sarkozy’s rescue in the nick of time.

Five years ago he convinced many of the Le Pen’s natural supporters that he would tackle the issues of crime and immigration. Not this time.

The biggest cheer for Marine Le Pen this morning came when she said: “What does it feel like, having been ‘the idiots’ for voting for the Front National, to now be the people who will decide a French Presidential election?”

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