As the run for the French presidency is accelerating, the 300,000 French living in London have become one of the stakes for both the primaries and the final vote.
In 2014, Boris Johnson said to Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux, as he was discussing his city (the 9th largest in France), “there are 250,000 French men and women in London and therefore I am the mayor of the sixth biggest French city on earth”. Juppé was one of the many unsuccessful candidates to the Centre-Right primary for presidency. Maybe he should have campaigned in London.
In April and May 2017, France will hold its most important series of elections, for the presidency. These will direct the fate of the country’s economy, its place in the world and how the next two years of Brexit negotiations will be handled. Many of the candidates try to appeal to the “expat” population to get the support of this young, well-off and active minority. With the rise in unemployment and taxes that France has seen during Holland’s five-year term, many French have left France to either work or study in the British capital. Roughly 0.5% of the French population lives in London (300,000 people) and candidates are now trying to broaden their base by getting their vote. What better way than to meet them in person?
Since September, candidates have held meetings and fundraised all over London. On the 20th of October, François Fillon, a candidate for the Centre Right Primary at the time, held a rally in London where about 500 people gathered to meet the candidate as he discussed the economy. As the London French population is made up of people ditching a stagnating economy with high taxes, it is understandable that the candidate advocating for “a Thatcherite break” to revive the economy is popular. Mr. Fillon won the first primary by a landslide, helped by the large majority of Londoners who voted for him. As the election draws closer the candidate will spend yet more time campaigning in London. Thierry Solère, the chairman of the primary and now spokesperson for Mr. Fillon, will hold a meeting in south Kensington later this month.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Emmanuel Macron, the liberal, young and charismatic former Economy minister, has also been campaigning in the city. As he claims to be “neither from the right nor the left”, he was here in September, at the Home House in Marylebone, raising money for his newly created party En Marche (On-the-Move, which conveniently has the same initials EM). The candidate, who is now credited with 13 to 18 % of the votes, has a small team of activists on the ground who can often be seen on university campuses or in South Kensington (the borough with the biggest French population).
As in world politics the division seems to have shifted from left against right to liberalism against sovereignty, the two candidates that wish to embody the liberal ideas of openness and globalisation find at least a symbolic reason to fight for the most global city in Europe. London might not shift the results of the election, but it is still the home of an entire generation of French people that will have an important say in who gets to be the next president.
Featured image: Flickr