François Fillon sought to revive his faltering French presidential campaign again yesterday with promises to slash public spending but found himself on the defensive over expensive suits he got as gifts.
With six weeks to go until the first round of voting, the former prime minister who was once favourite to win the presidency is battling to rally supporters and keep his centre-right alliance on his side after allegations of financial impropriety.
In a blitz of media interviews and a news conference, Mr Fillon, an open admirer of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, spelled out his plans to reinvigorate France's regulation-laden economy. "I want to make €100bn of savings over five years and reduce by 500,000 the number of public-sector jobs," he said at the news conference.
"My programme is based on an ambition to make France a great political and economic power."
He reiterated policies to end the 35-hour working week, a move that would be fiercely opposed by France's muscular unions, and gradually raise the retirement age to 65 from 62.
Mr Fillon's new offensive to put his campaign back on track comes two days before he is due to meet judges investigating the hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayers' money that he paid to his wife Penelope and his children for work they did for him.
The scandal has tainted his reputation as a clean politician and knocked him from first to third place in opinion polls.
That would see him knocked out in round one of the ballot on April 23 in favour of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning on a platform to pull France out of the euro, and centrist Emmanuel Macron, the new frontrunner.
Mr Fillon has said that magistrates are likely to put him officially under investigation on counts of suspected misuse of public funds.
Mr Fillon's attempts to revive a flagging campaign have been troubled by potentially damaging stories of high living that sit awkwardly with his claim at his party's primary last November to be beyond reproach ethically.
A newspaper at the weekend said he had received close to €50,000 worth of suits and clothing since 2012.
"I cannot see this as anything other than a manhunt," he told Europe 1 radio.
Over the weekend, Mr Fillon's party apologised for tweeting a caricature of Mr Macron that Mr Fillon himself admitted was anti-Semitic.
A new opinion poll released on Monday again showed Mr Fillon crashing out of the race in the first round, taking 20pc of the vote to Mr Macron's 25pc and Ms Le Pen's 27pc.
The Opinionway poll foresaw Mr Macron beating Ms Le Pen in the May 7 run-off by 62pc to her 38pc.