The struggling presidential campaign of Segolene Royal drifted further into confusion and internal party bickering yesterday.
One of the Socialist candidate's chief economic advisers has resigned amid accusations of "amateurism" and "disorganisation" in her campaign.
New opinion polls suggested that a landmark speech by Mme Royal at the weekend - including a 100-point "pact" with the French people - had failed to revive her floundering attempt to become France's first female president.
The Socialist Party's chief economic strategist, Eric Besson, stormed out of a party meeting on Wednesday after quarrelling with Francois Hollande, the party leader and Mme Royal's partner. M. Besson is reported to have protested against "zig-zags in strategy" and "idiocies" by her other advisers, who wanted to ban public discussion of the cost of new and expanded social programmes announced by Mme Royal on Sunday.
To add further insult, Mme Royal was booed by schoolchildren when she visited the training ground of the France rugby team south of Paris. Some aides suggested that the children were not anti-Royal; they were simply annoyed that rain had prevented them from joining the players on the pitch. Others said the children had been encouraged by far-left teachers.
All in all, it has been a disastrous couple of days for Mme Royal in a week that was supposed to mark a new and more aggressive phase in her unconventional run for the presidency.
Her weekend speech concluded the much-criticised "listening" stage of her campaign. Grassroots reaction has been excellent. Socialist leaders had been hoping for an upwards "bounce" in her poll ratings.
A series of surveys taken since the weekend still place her six to eight points behind her chief rival, the centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, in voting intentions for the second round of the 22 April and 6 May elections. Hopes of relaunching her campaign - or even preventing a complete melt-down - now rest on Mme Royal's performance during a two-hour primetime question and answer session on television next Monday. …