After 26 years living in France, I can confirm that joie de vivre is not a French thing – it’s a lie the French tell to tourists. On the whole the French are a pretty pessimistic bunch, only happy if they are miserable or complaining – that’s why they live so long. We all know that statistically, miserable people always live longer. So here are some ultra pessimistic thoughts about the French elections, inspired by friends and colleagues who have spent all week bemoaning Marine Le Pen’s first round electoral success with phrases like “this will lead to civil war”. Enjoy the read.
Gazing into my electoral crystal ball – as the mists clear, I can see … Marine Le Pen walking on a red carpet, ascending the steps to the Elysées Palace. There is an uneasy handshake with outgoing President, François Hollande. No smiles, no exchange of pleasantries, Marine Le Pen is simply led inside for her first presidential briefing …
The previous night, minutes after the announcement of her victory, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in spontaneous «anti-Marine» demonstrations, some were simple, sombre candle-lit vigils, in others men women and children walked solemnly together, heads bowed, as if in a long funeral cortege. Democracy is dead, France is dead. On the fringes of these peaceful affairs, groups of youths, begin to taunt CRS riot police, who have been deployed en masse in anticipation of the inevitable violence. Barely an hour after the Le Pen victory, and the bricks, bottles stone and Molotovs begin to fly. Anti-Le Pen protesters fight running battles with the security forces, whilst others set up impromptu barricades or start burning cars. It is a long night of violent street battles in all the nation’s cities – the dark night alight with flames and their thick with smoke and teargas.
No sooner has she assumed her presidential mantle, than Marine Le Pen appears on national TV in her first presidential address to the nation. She appeals for calm but her «soothing» words go unheeded as rioting breaks out again in the nation’s cities. Paris is burning, along with Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes – on this second night of rioting the big cities are joined by provincial towns – reports roll in of «disturbances» in Bergerac, Tours, Limoges … so far though the vast social housing estates on the edge of Paris have been strangely silent, but on the third night they too erupt and there are the first reports of the sporadic use of automatic weapons against the police.
Three, four, five nights of rioting, the security forces cannot cope and on the sixth night, the first reports of gun battles between police and rioters, there are fatalities on both sides. President Le Pen has no choice but reinforce the state of emergency and call in the army. Soldiers deploy on the nation’s streets – combat helmets, full body armour, patrolling in protected vehicles, France is at war. Foreign companies repatriate their workers. Foreign airlines suspend flights to France. The US government tell their nationals to prepare to leave France. The UK government simply warn against all travel to France and tell their nationals living in France to remain vigilant
Repeated appeals for calm and national unity from the new president are still unheeded as the spiral of violence continues. In the second week, the bomb attacks begin – bombs on the Paris Metro, a car bomb on the Champs Elysées and hundreds of unconfirmed reports of «suicide» attacks.
France’s European neighbours close their borders with France. US and UK governments begin to implement plans for the evacuations of their nationals. Huge US military transport planes begin to land at Villacoublay military airport near Paris. British troops deploy in Calais with talk of setting up “safe corridors” for the evacuation of British nationals living in the north of France …
We might never get this far, and God forbid we do, but what would happen if Marine Le Pen did win next week – instantaneous, mass rioting across the whole country for sure with security forces unable to contain the volatile situation. I’m not so sure about civil war, though this is what some more pessimistic «pundits» are predicting. For sure if Marine wins, France will wake up in stunned disbelief on the morning of May 8th, the air still thick with smoke and teargas from the night before and the streets strewn with the wrecks of burned out cars. As for the future, I don’t think there will be one.
Could Marine win it?
She is currently standing at 40% in the opinion polls and rising all the time. Her rival, the centrist Emmanuel Macron is at 60% and falling – just 7 days ago he was credited with 65%.
I firmly believe that Macron will win, though as we head into the last week of official campaigning the gap between both candidates is narrowing, worse still, the abstentionist lobby is gaining ground with around 20% of the electorate actually saying that they won’t bother turning out to vote, or if they do, they will spoil their ballot papers.
Traditionally during the second round of a French election, those candidates from smaller parties knocked out in the first round, get their supporters to rally to the surviving mainstream candidate who most reflects their values – its like Bernie Saunders supporters rallying to Hilary and Jed Bush supporters rallying to Donald. In France it used to be simple. In the first round of voting there would be Communists, Trotskyites and socialists. The socialists would always make it through to the second round and the other minority left wing parties would throw their support behind the socialist candidate. It was also the same on the right, with Royalists and the far right supporting the mainstream centre right republican candidate.
This time round it is different. In the first round of voting, both traditional mainstream parties lost. The centre right Republican Party got around 20% of the popular vote, whereas the Socialist party was well and truly wiped polling just under 7%.
The reasons for the socialist «debacle» are many. A lot of traditional socialist voters rallied to the far left wing candidate Jaen Luc Melonchon, whilst others in the former industrial and socialist heartlands of the North and the East of France switched their allegiance to Marine Le Pen’s Front National – disillusioned with their party after five years of a disastrous Hollande Presidency. I suppose you have to look closely at the changing nature of the French socialist party over the past decade or so. In ten years it has gone from being the party of the workers and become the political vehicle of the Parisian intellectual elite. Nothing about workers rights or saving jobs, but plenty about societal change and mulitculturalism. Then along come two extremist candidates – Jean Luc Melonchon with his left wing movement «La France Insoumise» – rallying the left wing of the socialist party and the remnants of the Communist party, and on the right, Marine Le Pen and the Front national rallying under the same populist and nationalist banner, everyone from royalists to ultra Catholics and former socialist voting factory workers and trade unionists.
Jean Luc Melonchon did not make it through to the second round, but he soundly beat the socialists into fourth place, and apart from telling his supporters not to vote Front National next week, he has voiced no support for the other candidate in the presidential run off – Emmanuel Macron and his centre left movement «En Marche» – There are probably quite a few who can happily switch from the radical left to the far right. In terms of policy on Europe, workers right and social issues, you could hardly tell the difference between Marine Le Pen and Jean Luc Melonchon – the main differences came on immigration, and defence and education
And in the middle we have Emmanuel Macron, former finance minister to François Hollande, a one time banker at Rothschild, who at forty years young has never held elected office – to make matters worse, Mr Macron has a bit of the self-important wind bag about him with a tendency to blow his own trumpet and make long unscripted speeches filled with unfounded and sweeping off the cuff remarks on French history and culture and also the very thorny subject of France’s colonial past. This is the guy that said that colonisation was a crime against humanity (agree or disagree, but think of the consequences before you speak), he also said that there was no such thing as French culture anymore – needless to say that his communication team we’re up all night, explaining to the world what their candidate really meant (I know he spoke those words but he didn’t actually say that)
For history buffs – The weight of history on the French presidential election campaign. Sunday April 30th – la Journée Nationale des Déportés or Deportation Memorial Day – when, in villages, towns and cities across France, official ceremonies are held to remember the almost 120,000 French men women and children who were deported to the Nazi death camps during the Nazi Occupation of France from 1941 to 1944. Have a little think on this if you are thinking of voting Marine next Sunday.