French election debate: three hours on air, but no clear winner

A snap poll after last night’s Le Grand Débat, the televised debate between the five main French presidential candidates, named independent candidate Emmanuel Macron the victor. But after more than three hours of debate, watched at its peak by over 11.5million French viewers, it’s unclear if this debate will have changed anything in this increasingly unpredictable race.

Certainly, commentators are dubious about frontrunner Macron’s performance last night. More than anything he seemed to show his lack of political experience. He made vague points, which lasted too long. ‘You’ve been talking for seven minutes and not said anything’, said Front National leader Marine Le Pen. He was also easily provoked. Snapping at Le Pen at one point, after she said he was in favour of the burkini, he said he didn’t need a ‘ventriloquist’.

Le Pen stuck to her preferred issues of the European Union, the Eurozone and immmigration. She praised Brexit more than once, calling it a ‘formidable’ success. In response, embattled centre-right candidate François Fillon pointed out that the UK has not left the EU yet, and Macron accused Leave campaigners of shirking responsibility once the referendum was over.

Fillon’s campaign has been hugely damaged by the ongoing investigation into the alleged fictional jobs he paid his wife and children to do. And he was criticised on Twitter for being particularly quiet in the first part of the debate. However, he came more into his own later on, and spoke with a certain gravitas. He said Le Pen’s plan to leave the euro would leave the French economy in tatters, and labelled her the ‘serial killer’ of French spending, solidifying his position as the ‘realist’ candidate.

Meanwhile, Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon battled it out over left-wing issues. Hamon, who was virtually unknown before his victory in the left primary, may have surprised many with his clear, precise arguments and commitment to a universal income. But it was Melenchon who really packed a punch. The far-left candidate is not expected to reach the second round of the election. But he fought hard and with more passion than any of the other candidates. He came second in the snap poll.

At times the debate was fiery, but no single candidate could really be crowned the clear winner. With just over one month until the first round of voting, and an estimated 40 per cent or so of French voters remaining undecided, this still remains the most unpredictable French election in recent memory.

Naomi Firsht is staff writer at spiked and co-author of The Parisians’ Guide to Cafés, Bars and Restaurants. Follow her on Twitter: @Naomi_theFirsht

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