He's crashed in the polls, gaining only 35% compared to 54% for his Socialist and Green rivals. These results, recalling some of those for a previous Union of the Left, were obtained not as a result of lacklustre PS policy, but on the basis of protests of record size and some enormous strikes that have buffeted the administration. But Sarkozy has a comeback plan, which can be summed up with a simple formula: ban the veil (again). That the staggering rebuff suffered by the French conservatives in the polls has by no means been softened by the UMP's constant resort to Islam-baiting makes no difference here. The major beneficiary of the various campaigns to ban Islamic sartorial items, justified on the grounds that such garments represent both an 'extremist' challenge to the Republic and an unconscionable abridgment of womens' rights, has been the Front National, though even their vote was down on 2004.
Yet, Sarkozy's reflexive response to his defeat is to go back to waving his policeman's stick at the beurs and beurettes, just as he has been doing since the banlieue riots and before. There is only one reason for this: it is the only policy which the majority of French people support which Sarkozy could realistically deliver. He fully intends to press ahead with his policy of attacking the welfare state, cutting public sectors and raising the retirement age. As he's in the business of inflicting pain, all he can offer is to inflict slightly more of it on France's large Muslim minority. Only the relative strenght of the left and the militancy of the labour movement has prevented this racism from becoming a much more dangerous currency in French politics. It is likely that the NPA's principled decision to stand a 'veiled' candidate in the elections cost them some votes, especially in light of the vitriolic denunciations from others on the left. But this decision, and the new emphasis on combatting Islamophobia in France, is an important step forward that can only strengthen the fight against Sarkozy and Le Pen.