The voters of France look likely to turn decisively left tomorrow, plunging the country into five years of shared left-right government and heaping further doubts on the timetable for the European single currency.
According to private and illegally published polls, taken in the last couple of days, the Left will win a comfortable victory in the second round of the French parliamentary elections. This would represent an extraordinary repudiation of the Gaullist President Jacques Chirac, elected for seven years in 1995, and a great personal triumph for the Socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, who would become Prime Minister.
It would also mean that France and Britain had left-wing governments simultaneously for the first time in 50 years. Opinion polls are not always reliable in France. They failed to pick up the ascendancy of the Left before the first round last week. But the new survey, published illegally by the newspaper Le Parisien, yesterday, seems to reflect the national mood of the last few days: confusion and defeatism on the centre-right; surprised confidence on the left; and pessimistic rejection of politics of all kinds across much of the country. The CSA poll, first published on the Internet by a Swiss newspaper, la Tribune de Geneve, suggests the loose alliance of Socialists, greens and Communists may win by 55 seats. Other private polls make the swing to the left even stronger and suggest that - with the presence of the far right National Front splitting the right-wing vote in many constituencies - the Socialist Party alone may win an outright majority. A month after Tony Blair's victory in the British election, the political landscape of Europe seems to be tilting sharply to the left. Mr Jospin told his last rally in Lille on Thursday night: "We are on the edge of an event which will stupefy Europe, and at the same time, raise magnificent hopes across Europe after the Labour victory in Britain." In France, at least, it is unlikely that a victory for the likeable rather than charismatic Mr Jospin will be greeted by the kind of popular enthusiasm which greeted the end of 18 years of Conservative rule in Britain. It is only four years since French voters gave the Left their worst hiding in recent history. A victory for Mr Jospin would, above all, be a stinging, and deliberate, humiliation of President Jacques Chirac, who tried to win tactical advantage by calling the election nine months early, when the Socialists and the National Front were ill-prepared. Instead, it was his own centre-right coalition which could not find an effective campaign message after failing to deliver Chirac's election promise of 1995 to cut unemployment and heal "social fracture". A victory for the French left would also pile further doubt on the ability of the European Union to deliver the single currency according to the present timetable or with the intended degree of budgetary rigour. …