The Election After the Night Before

Personal ramblings and flawed analysis on the Presidential blip in France and scares of a right wing victory

Monday April 24th 2017

It is a warm, sunny day of lilac and birdsong. The wisteria is thick with its long purple flowers and the lawn is pushing up daisies everywhere – seems almost a shame to cut the grass, which was the main reason I decided to take the afternoon off work. I’d vote that all days be like this.

Sunday too, was a pleasant day, just warm enough to fire up the barbecue and eat in the garden, which was what many people did before heading to the polling station in the afternoon to cast their vote in the first round of the French presidential election.

Yes, this is France, and obviously the French do nothing like anyone else , so the presidential election is held over two rounds.

In the first round a handful of minority parties for the far flung edges of French politics jockey for position with the mainstream candidates to get their point across. Call them the no-hopers or men and women, so passionate about their lost cause, that they will spend weeks or months on the election trail fighting their corner in the full knowledge that they will only get, at best, 2% of the vote. Within the ranks of the no-hopers this time around – a couple of Trostskyist parties, an anti-European candidate, an ultra Gaullist and a Farmers’ party – a candidate representing the interests of the nations agricultural/rural lobby.

A long time back, the far right-wing Front National (FN) was also a minority party – a band of ultra catholic nationalists ; nostalgic for a Franco-French Vichy-style France. The FN hovered around the 9% mark – branded as fascists and anti-semites, they never seemed to seriously worry anyone, until April 21st 2002, when they made it through to the second round of the French presidential election by beating the mainstream socialist party candidate, Lionel Jospin, into third place.

In the French two round system only the two candidates with the biggest scores make it through to the second round.

April 21st 2002 – panic stations. The FN candidate, Jean Marie Le Pen was in a run off with the Republican party candidate, Jacques Chirac. There were calls for an anti FN, Republican alliance and the left, however unwillingly, voted Chirac in the second round ensuring he won with a resounding 82% of the popular vote – quite astounding when you know that French elections are normally a 51%- 49% affair.

Now the FN are back with a 21% share of the first round vote, and a place in the second round of voting, to be held in two weeks time. Is this a disaster ? I think not, the other candidate in the presidential run-off – Emmanuel Macron, should, short of a disaster, win hands down ; however, France has changed since 2002, and the shock will come if the FN and their presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, poll over 35% – if this is the case, she will be the true winner of the election. Note that we are not voting in favour of a candidate and his policies, rather we are voting against a candidate who presents a potential danger for France, and such has been the stuff of French elections for may a year – a vote against rather than a vote in favour.

Think back to May 15th 2012. Around 8pm the official result of the French presidential election is announced – François Hollande. A real shock – this diminutive bloke with a wonky tie, crumpled suits and all the charisma of a small town grocer had suddenly become president of France. How did that happen ? I still remember the look on the new president’s face when he gave his first press conference after securing the presidency – it was one of total disbelief, he genuinely did not expect to win, but he didn’t win, the French simply turned out en masse to vote against the other candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sunday 15th May, I watched the interminable election coverage long into the night, then switched off the TV and went to sleep for the next five years. Sure the next morning, I must have been like President Hollande himself, pinching myself just to make sure this wasn’t just a dream. I used to be passionate about French politics, styling myself as a «keen observer» and blogging at length on the subject, but there was something about François Hollande that just left me indifferent, unconcerned.

Like many people I think I’ve spent the last five years under sedation. It’s not that Hollande was a bad president, he was just a non-president, and even he realised that the day that he announced he would not be seeking to renew his mandate in the 2017 French presidential elections.

Sure, a lot has happened in the past five years, a lot of tragic events – the murder of journalists in the january 2015 «Charlie Hebdo» attacks, the November 2015 terrorism in Paris, the July 14th massacre in Nice, and just a few days ago, the murder of a police officer on the Champs Elysées – and of course, the presidential mandate started with the fractious and damaging national debate on same sex marriage, where century-old religious cleavages were once again opened. What passed off peacefully, as a progressive and common sense reform in most other countries, in France was branded as a major societal change and taken up by the left as a crusade. However, despite fractious and tragic events, when we take a look back at the Hollande presidency we will seriously ask the question « What happened ? – What did President Hollande actually do? »

This time round of course we are not voting against Hollande, he is not running, but we are voting against the socialist party in general. The once venerable and mighty party with its great history and legendary heros like Leon Blum, Jean Jaurès, and François Mitterrand, only polled 7% in the first round; historically the worst score ever for the party. What happened? Where were the socialist voters?

Well over the past few years, the French socialist party has gone the same way as the British labour party – it has become an essentially middle class club for the Chattering Classes – bright young Parisian intellectuals who worry more about breaking links with the past and building a brave new multicultural society. The French socialist party has become a very Boho affair. Traditional working class supporters abandoned the party years ago and started voting in droves for the Front National, which was also the fate of the Communist Party. Many observers say this presidential election is the death knell of the socialist party and they put the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man – François Hollande – lack of any real policy, lack of leadership – an uncharismatic and indecisive leader.

So, France voted against the socialists and in a couple of weeks, we will all be heading to the polls to vote against the FN. And who are the candidates in round two?

Marine Le Pen – not really a fascist, but a far/extreme right wing nationalist and populist candidate playing on fears of immigration, terrorism. She is the French « Brexit » lady. She currently has a 21% share of the vote and could draw support from conservative fringe candidates from the first round and ironically she could als draw a lot of support from disillusioned socialist voters for her stance on immigration and French jobs for French workers. (She’s no words than, or just as bad as Donald Trump)

Emmanuel Macron – François Hollande’s ex- finance minister who left the government to found « En Marche» – his own popular/citizen movement in a catch-all Blairite mode. This is the guy who will break the traditional two party mold of French politics and «refound» France. mr macron will draw in huge support from the anti FN alliance that is quickly forming.

And finally, I should have spent the last few months giving in depth wall-to-wall, 24/7 blog coverage to the election, but I’ve just kind of lost interest in French politics. Guess I’ll need to wake up.

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