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UMP conference’s ‘unity’ message

To highlight Socialist divisions, party members bury several hatchets and draw ranks behind Sarkozy.

A STRONG message of unity has been the theme for the UMP summer conference, taking place in Royan in Charente-Maritime.

PM François Fillon said the party represented unity, modernity, movement and debate. “It is often more stirring to go into battle for ideas, rather than to win them.”

Old spats have been laid aside with Minister of Work Xavier Bertrand sitting down for breakfast with the leader of the UMP in the National Assembly Jean-François Copé – the two men have not shaken hands in over a year.

Mr Copé said: “In this new term I’ve decided to no longer get angry over pointless arguments.”

High-ranking party members denied there had been any divisions over the leadership of the party. UMP General Secretary Patrick Devedjian, who was rumoured to be in line for replacement, said the party fell behind one leader – Sarkozy.

“We are like the centurions in the Gospels, we go where he tells us to go,” he said.

The conference was opened by the assistant general secretary Christian Estrosi, who said: “No one can rejoice in the fact that France is the last sanctuary in the world for the last of the Socialist dinosaurs.”

He said the Socialist Party’s main preoccupation today was whether to handle the extreme left with or without gloves.

Estrosi said that over the next two years the UMP had two prioritise, to be permanently campaigning and to speak to the young.

The party, whose membership has dropped to 210,000, is planning to regain support from areas traditionally seen as socialist territory such as university campuses.

Benjamin Lancar, president of the UMP’s youth movement Jeunes Populaires, said: “We have to talk to all the young people; students, workers, youth on estates, professionals.”

The revenu de solidarité active, the one issue that could have caused fractures within the party conference, was sidelined.

Critics of the RSA which involves levying a new tax on capital profits were told to shut up by the leadershp.
Workers Minister Martin Hirsch said: “I would ask you to make the RSA the standard of social transformation that we are driving.”

François Fillon asked delegates not to criticise their own reforms and allow the Socialist Party to “slip away from its responsibilities.”

Photo:AFP/Pierre Andrieu

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