French bankers in London, who dine at the Michelin two-star Connaught restaurant in Mayfair and swim at the nearby Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall, may soon have a Socialist representing them at the National Assembly in Paris.
France will allow expatriates to take part for the first time in the country’s parliamentary elections on June 3 after creating 11 constituencies for citizens abroad. Socialist party candidate Axelle Lemaire’s chance of victory in the district that includes the U.K. were boosted after Francois Hollande, who called finance his “greatest adversary,” beat Nicolas Sarkozy, in the May 6 election, taking 50.8 percent of the British vote.
“Because the presidential election was not even a month ago, the logic would be that voters confirm their choice, meaning the socialist candidate stands a good chance to win,” Leendert de Voogd, Brussels-based head for politics at research firm TNS, said in an interview. “That said, there was a big anti-Sarkozy sentiment, and we have no idea on whether voters abroad will actually make the effort to cast their ballot.”
French financial industry executives say a socialist victory would be a surprise, because they had assumed those who’d left France were fleeing a system of big spending, benefits and taxes at home for a more entrepreneurial milieu. French nationals registered to vote in the U.K., who previously had only been able to take part in their presidential elections, backed Sarkozy and his predecessor Jacques Chirac in the last three ballots.
No ‘Safety Net’
“Maybe the French living in the U.K. are attached to the French system and to a more favorable welfare system after all,” Pierre-Antoine de Selancy, who moved to London with his wife and three children in 2010, to start private equity firm, 17Capital. “If you’ve moved to London, it’s not because you were counting on any safety net or substantial benefits.”
A victory for the Socialist candidate would show that the U.K.’s French community, once dominated by math whizzes and City dealmakers, has grown broader as it has increased in size. There are between 300,000 and 400,000 French people in the U.K., according to French embassy estimates, making it the sixth or seventh-largest French city. Their numbers began swelling in the mid-1990’s, when the cross-Channel Eurostar rail service opened, linking Paris and London in about three hours.
Lemaire, 37, a mother of two, has lived in London for the past 10 years and is one of 20 candidates seeking votes from French citizens in a constituency that includes the U.K., Ireland, Denmark, Finland and the Baltic states. Hollande took 53 percent of the vote in the constituency this month.
The U.K. has traditionally been a stronghold of Sarkozy’s UMP party. In 2007, Sarkozy beat his Socialist rival Segolene Royal by more than 6 percentage points in the U.K.
“The sociological makeup of the French who live here has changed,” Lemaire said in an interview. “There are fewer traditional expatriates, fewer City workers. I meet people with all sorts of jobs and all sorts of backgrounds.”
She is counting on the newer categories of residents to deliver her victory. For many City workers, she represents policies they reject.
Yann Duchesne, a private equity manager who has settled in London and is a member of the Royal Automobile Club, a private club, says he will vote for free-market advocate Gaspard Koenig or UMP candidate Emmanuelle Savarit because he does “not want Hollande to implement his economic measures.”
Christian Lucas, another London-based private equity executive, said he wants “more support for startups as these ultimately contribute meaningfully to job creation and economic growth.”
Taxes are a preoccupation for the finance industry voters. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate fiscal conventions with Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg to raise levies on tax exiles. He plans a 75 percent levy on incomes of more than 1 million euros ($1.31 million).
“The French community in the U.K. has become a deep, large and diverse group with all political sensitivities, increasingly mirroring France,” said Jean-Francois Cecillon, who ran British music label EMI Group Ltd.’s international operations and has been in London for more than 22 years. “In the 1990’s, there were 30,000 French people here, with a high concentration of bankers. Now it’s grown to the equivalent of a big French city. It’s not surprising to see a roughly 50-50 split between the right and the left,” he said.
In London, where the majority of the U.K.’s French residents live, Sarkozy beat Hollande by 725 votes, helped by support in South Kensington, an expensive and popular area for bankers and wealthy families, while residents in the North of the capital voted for his opponent.
Sarkozy got 57 percent of the vote in the city’s South West, near the Lycee Charles de Gaulle, a French government- owned school that teaches students the country’s national curriculum in the mother tongue. In contrast, 60 percent of those living near Kentish Town in the north, a less expensive area, backed Hollande.
“I had perceived differences in living standards and political orientations on the ground, but I hadn’t thought the divide would be so big,” Lemaire said.
The average rent for a three-bedroom property in South Kensington is 1,369 pounds ($2,139) a week, compared with 850 pounds a week for a four-bedroom apartment in Kentish Town, according to real estate agent Foxtons.
Last Saturday at Parliament Hills near Kentish Town, the farmers’ market selling vegetables, fish and organic meat, buzzed in French.
Benjamin Suzanne, who worked for a radio station in France before moving to London three months ago, sells bread with his wife, a midwife. Although he didn’t vote in the presidential elections, he says he would have voted for the left.
Sandrine de la Plage, a photographer from Annecy who’s been in London for 20 years, buys food for a picnic in Hampstead Heath with her son, whom she sends to a new French school that opened in the neighborhood last year. De la Plage, who voted for the Labour party at the London mayoral elections, said she doesn’t follow French politics.
The anti-Sarkozy votes that bolstered Hollande in the presidential election will not repeat itself in the legislative ballot, according to UMP candidate Savarit, 39, a mother of two.
“There are some champagne socialist expatriates in London whose school tuitions and rents are paid for by their employers, but I have a hard time believing the French in the U.K. overall are on the left,” she said in an interview. “They value work, risk-taking and oppose taxes on residents abroad. These aren’t leftist behaviors.”
Sarkozy’s appeal to the far-right, anti-immigration Front National voters toward the end of the campaign, turned even some of his supporters against him, according to Severine Capra, a working mother of three who lives in Notting Hill.
“Among my friends who voted Sarkozy in the first round, more than half voted Hollande or didn’t vote at all in the second round because they couldn’t bear Sarkozy’s game with the Front National,” she said.
Cities including Edinburgh and Glasgow backed Hollande with more than two-thirds of the votes. Liverpool supported him with 70 percent and Ashford, the first Eurostar stop coming out of the Channel Tunnel, voted for the socialist candidate as well.
There are 71,753 registered voters in the U.K. Only a third voted in the presidential election.
Candidates in the legislative election are seeking to lure voters by focusing on employment, taxation and education.
“I want to address local concerns, such as taxation of the French living abroad, pensions, schools,” Jerome de Lavenere Lussan, an independent candidate who started hedge-fund consulting firm Laven Partners LLP, said at a debate at King’s College last week. “On the national level, I want to promote small and medium-sized businesses, more jobs, less public debt and safer ecology.”
Olivier Cadic, a center-right candidate who started his company in France when he was 20 and relocated it in the U.K. because of lower costs, wants to help French entrepreneurs get better access to investors in the U.K.
Lemaire says she backs more financial regulation while denying Hollande may try to tax French Londoners.
“I discuss with those in the City who admit that the causes of the 2008 crisis haven’t been dealt with,” she said.
Many French bankers in the City remain wary.
“The City was created by genius French mathematicians and bankers,” Cadic said. “How can she represent them by stigmatizing them?”
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