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Debate Sarkozy v Hollande - No knock-out blows ( but lots of punches below the belt )
Those who hoped that last night’s presidential debate would raise the level of political debate, be scattered with the "bons mots" and intellectual sparring in the best Voltairean traditions, will have been sadly disappointed by yesterday’s playground fight between between Sarkozy and Hollande.
Where was a repeat of Giscard d’Estaing’s famous comment of 1974 when faced with a Mitterand explaining how only his plans would deliver social progress ("Vous n’avez pas le monopole du coeur") ? Or Mitterand’s crushing putdown of Chirac in 1988, after 2 years of painful "cohabitation", when Chirac tried to position himself on the same level as the president ("Vous avez tout a fait raison monsieur le premier ministre") ?
What did we get instead ? We sat through a pompous and rather dull Hollande churning out pre-prepared lists of sound-bites ("moi, president de la republique…"). We saw an unusually un-combative Sarkozy, largely on the defensive, managing only to call his adversary "un petit calomniateur", which does not even register on the effective insult scale. At times both candidates resembled squabbling children, not least because the debate adjudicators , Laurence Ferrari of TF1 and David Pujadas of France 2, seemed incapable of stopping the constant interruptions of which Hollande was particularly guilty.
So who won? Not surprisingly, the spin doctors are out in force on French television and radio this morning. For the Left, clearly relieved that Hollande survived pretty much intact, the debate showed their favourite’s statesmanship and presidential qualities. The Right, obviously disappointed that Sarkozy did not land any serious punches, is doing its best to salvage what it can from the evening.
With Hollande still seven points ahead in the opinion polls, Sarkozy’s troops know that their man just did not do enough last night. Hollande did not need to win. He just needed to avoid having to be picked up from the canvas. In fact, the general view is that he actually probably just about won on points.