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There was a clue that something was up aboard the 20:01 Eurostar from London to Paris in the small earpieces worn by suited men lurking between carriages while we took our seats. Later, in the bar, which is normally quiet, around 20 people formed a huddle not by the refreshments but around a man holding court and cracking jokes. A closer look showed him to be the likely next president of France come the elections in May, François Hollande.

The huddle consisted of a mildly chaotic briefing with the travelling French media in the buffet car. But Hollande had declined…

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