Mood of the Electorate Points to Clinton in the U.S. and Cameron in the U.K.

There are now three candidates, any one of whom could win the French Presidency.  The first round of elections will be in April.  At present the right wing candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, is in the lead, with the socialist Ségolène Royal, in second place.  Close behind her comes François Bayrou, the centrist.

If M. Bayrou comes second, he will probably get the larger share of the vote of the candidate who drops out – very possibly Mme. Royal.  Although he is the strongest candidate, M. Sarkozy is vulnerable to the appeal of a centrist.  In theory, Mme. Royal could edge ahead of M. Sarkozy in the second round, but she has to knock out M. Bayrou to do so.

In Europe, most countries are moving towards the political centre.  Germany has a grand coalition under Chancellor Merkel, including both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats.  In Britain, the centrist Labour Party under Tony Blair has been in power for ten years.  If Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s probable successor, postpones the election until 2010, Labour will have been in power for 13 years, as a centre party.

The Conservatives under David Cameron have also moved to the centre, with considerable success.  Less than two years ago, in May 2005, the Labour Party was able to gain another comfortable majority leading the Conservatives by 36 per cent to 33 in terms of votes.  The latest opinion poll puts Cameron ahead of Brown by 43 per cent to 28, a big enough margin to give Cameron an overall majority at the next General Election.  Although some members of his own party regard Cameron as too left wing, his move to the centre has obviously won him support, both among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters.

It will be interesting to see whether the rise of the centre will extend to the United States.  President Bush campaigned as a centrist in the 2000 election, but his Presidency has been conservative both on foreign policy and domestic.  The most centrist of the Democratic candidates would be Hillary Clinton.  Mayor Giuliani would appeal to centrist voters.  His stand on abortion and gun control is well to the left of most Republicans.

In France and Britain there is a feeling that life has become too difficult, even for prosperous members of the middle class.  In London, the issue of house prices has affected people who have always thought they were among the rich.  With starting salaries around £20,000 to £30,000 outside the financial sector, a two bedroom flat in London represents about eight times the income of a young couple, and, of course, young wives have to leave their work to look after the first baby.  Even when grandparents can help, the prices of housing come as a shock even to the wealthy, and are a much greater shock to the less well off.

The Republicans do not much care for David Cameron, whom they regard as less reliable than Tony Blair.  Perhaps the next transatlantic friendship will be one between President Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister David Cameron.  The mood of the electorate seems to be pointing in that direction.

William Rees-Mogg
for Markets and Money

William Rees-Mogg
Leading political editor William Rees-Mogg is former editor-in-chief for The Times and a member of the House of Lords. He has been credited with accurately forecasting glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall – as well as the 1987 crash. His political commentary appears in The Times every Monday. His financial insights can only be found in the Fleet Street Letter, the UK's longest-running investment newsletter.

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