Sunday, 11 March 2007

Presidentielle 2007 - From your French Political Correspondent

Two weeks is a long time in politics. Nearly two weeks ago I wrote about Francois Bayrou (UDF centre right) implying that he was irrelevant, since he was in third place at only 17% in the opinion polls, and he was unlikely to get elected. He has risen steadily since then and Le Monde (9 March 2007) was quoting support for him now standing at 21%, seriously challenging Segolene Royal at 24% and Nicholas Sarkozy at 29%. The Socialists are worried to the point that their spokesman said on France Inter (10 March), that if Bayrou beats Royal on the first round, he should withdraw so that France is offered a true left of centre alternative to Sarkozy. French journalists are so well trained and respectful that no one laughed!

There are two rounds of voting for the Présidentielle. For a long time I have been trying to understand the rules for the second round, so finally I looked them up and they are very simple. If a candidate does not get a majority of the votes cast in the first round, then there is a second round with only the top two candidates. Whoever wins this is elected. In the same poll quoted above, people were asked who they would vote for on the second round, and the figures were Bayrou 55% against 45% for Sarkozy.

So there is now a serious possibility that Bayrou could pull ahead of Sego in the first round and win in the second. Since he is an experienced politician he is unlikely to make silly gaffes, and his platform, of being an alternative to the left – right pendulum of the last 20 years, is clearly going down well. It is after all a very simple message to sell. I shall now have to try to understand whether he has anything else to offer because I still have reservations about him. Firstly his basic left-right coalition idea is naïve and will not work. Secondly I watched one of his speeches a few weeks ago and a disproportionate length was given to education, but he had only one serious idea for helping businesses and re-launching the economy (he used to be Minister for Education). I am, however, certain that he has no grand ideas for reforming France and voting for him will be a vote for the status quo. Lastly, there was an event this week which bears on him and deserves explaining.

Simone Veil is a Grand Dame of French politics. She is Jewish and was a concentration camp survivor. She is a symbol of the re- construction of post war European politics and is said to be one of the best liked personalities in France. As a female politician, over the years, she has championed the rights of women but from a right wing rather than a left wing perspective. She was a member of the UDF, Bayrou’s party. For some years she has been on the Conseil Constitutionnel, an organisation, which amongst other things, sets the rules for elections and is non political. This week her term of office ended and on the Day of Women she announced her support for Sarkozy. In 1989, Bayrou directed her campaign for the European elections, which was considered a fiasco, and she lost. She is on record as saying that he was ineffective and their antipathy has deepened since then. Her intervention did make the television news, but we will have to wait to see whether it has made any significant impact.

There are still six weeks to go until the first round of voting on 22 April and that is a very long time in politics. I don’t think that any of the candidates are really dominating the media and they are missing opportunities. There is little of the rapid riposte and media management that we are used to, and got very tired of, in the UK. I think this is especially true of Sarkozy whose message is not getting through and needs simplifying. I wonder whether Alistair Campbell can speak French. I would say that their politics are very similar and there is still time to make an impact.

José Bové (Confédération Paysanne, Peasants Union) is in a bit of trouble. He is a colourful character on the greenish extreme left, and is one of the minority candidates who is difficult to ignore. His difficulty isn’t the fact that he has been sentenced to four months in prison for driving a JCB into the front of a MacDonald’s. Since he is out campaigning as usual, that is not his most immediate concern. His problem is that he is several hundred signatures short of the 500 that he needs to sponsor his candidature, from the 36,786 mayors in France. Until the list closes on 16 March, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur Audiovisuel) has decreed that all candidates should get equal airtime. This explains his frequent appearance on many TV discussion programmes, which I am disappointed to report, has confirmed to me that he isn’t a peasant, but a well educated politician. I look forward to seeing much less of him very soon.


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