Only the “Big Five” or leading candidates were invited by TF1/LCI to take part; those ranking at more than 10 per cent in the opinion polls.
|The leading candidates|
It was a move that prompted Nicolas Dupont-Aignan - one of the “little candidates” (there are six of them - yes a grand total of 11 aiming for the highest office in the Land) to stomp off in a huff during a television interview during a news broadcast over the weekend.
So how did the candidates perform?
Well, as the BBC’s Hugh Schofield rightly points out, trying to predict the winner of any presidential debate is pretty much “a mug’s game”.
And although Monday night’s three-hour plus marathon might have been a first in a presidential campaign here in France (normally the debating is left to the final two before the second round) it’s probably anyone’s guess as to who actually came across as the winner.
Over nine million viewers tuned in to watch and although the “conventional wisdom” of political commentators (those who “know” best) and the independent polls taken immediately afterwards judged centrist Emmanuel Macron as the “most convincing”, it would be unwise to read too much into that.
Ultimately each candidate’s camp was putting its own political spin on the evening with each claiming to have been “satisfied”, “happy” and “confident”. Nothing new there then.
For the record though, here’s a personal view as to how they came across.
Macron probably had the most to lose and was on the receiving end of several attacks. After a ponderous start, though he held his own and refrained from falling into the traps laid down for him.
Still, he needs to find a “defining” policy which sticks in the electorate’s mind.
At the moment he appears to be caught in the Centre’s dilemma of wanting to appeal to all sides.
The far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen was as bellicose as ever - only to be expected - and that won’t have done her any harm…among her own supporters.
But the shrugged dismissal of any criticism and an inability to come up with a response as to why she deems herself above the judiciary (only fleetingly addressed) and fa ailure to appeal outside of her own electorate will not have made her chances of widening her appeal.
Les Républicain’s François Fillon - was statesmanlike and serious (almost to the point of boring) but astonishingly reserved and restrained - almost as though he were, at times, absent. He too suffers from a difficulty of reaching out beyond his own “fans” - and oh yes, the foreign media should stop defining his candidacy as centre-right. It’s rightwing.
Benoît Hamon - the Socialist party’s candidate - was widely seen as having failed to shine. Sure, he was articulate and coherent but sometimes (too often in fact) saw his thoughts and ideas overshadowed by those of the man whose views most closely match his own - the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Make no mistake, Mélenchon (what was it with those very pink lips?) was and remains an orator head and shoulders above the rest, able to inject more than a modicum of cutting wit at just the right moment.
But he’s also more of a troublemaker (especially for the Socialist party) than a serious candidate to be president.
The second debate in a fortnight’s (April 4) on BFM TV will feature all 11 candidate when the likes of Dupont-Aignan, Jacques Cheminade and François Asselineau will get their chance to ensure that the electorate is even more confused afterwards than it was before with polls still showing that around 40 per cent don’t know how they’ll vote.