29 February 2012 3:45 PM

The French battle for London

Socialist French presidential front-runner Francois Hollande is in town today, meeting with Ed Miliband and giving a talk at King's College.

He'll also be campaigning alongside Axelle Lemaire, his party's candidate in the race to be "French MP for London". A new-for-2012 innovation, France will have 11 MPs based outside of the country and chosen exclusively by ex-pats.

Ahead of Hollande's visit I spoke to all of Lemaire's London-based rivals (the time pressures of a visiting leader prevented it being a full house) and was struck by what an impressive bunch of budding politicians they are.

In Nicolas Sarkozy's corner is Emmanuelle Savarit, a 39-year-old divorced mother-of-two who has worked in LA and loves rugby. She also claims to be the only French member of the Carlton Club (following in Margaret Thatcher's footsteps - she was officially a male member back in the day). An impressive attack dog for the Sarkozy camp, she warned Brits should be "scared" if Hollande ousts her man from the top job.

Hoping to come through the middle is Yannick Naud, of the centrist Democratic Movement. A polished performer, the 44-year-old asset management firm boss is another with international experience, having worked in Japan where he met his wife. He is banging the drum for ex-pat rights, putting education at the top of his list and opposing plans to tax French people overseas.

Independent Will Mael Nyamat entered the race in protest at perceived gender bias in favour of Lemaire, quitting the Socialists to stand. A 27-year-old immigration adviser who was born in Gabon but now lives in Croydon. Very much the anti-establishment man, he argues voters don't want the contest "confiscated" by the two main parties.

Completing the list is the Green Party's Olivier Bertin, who runs a bilingual nursery school and has stood for the English greens as a council candidate in Lambeth. He believes the overseas MPs can bring a good perspective from their experiences abroad - even suggesting a Freedom of Information Act for notoriously privacy-aware France.

They are all bidding to woo as many as 100,000 registered French voters in the capital - the vast bulk of the constituency. It should make for a fascinating scrap.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse


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