Here’s a short report in English from AFP news, which I had a tiny part in helping organise. The piece talks about the history of immigration in France, and the rise in popularity of the Front National.
So the Presidential Election race has now officially commenced, with each of the candidates campaign adds flooding French television. They take turns to appear on all the major talk shows and their campaign posters are now lined up on official boards outside most public spaces and schools. As someone who can’t vote, I have to admit that I really can’t wait for the whole thing to be over and done with, and for normality to resume! anyways, here is a little update of some of the recent events from the front-runners.
I have ordered the following candidates in order of their positions in the most recent Sondage (Poll).
After being well behind in the early stages of the campaign, Sarkozy is now a few percentage points in front of the PS leader Hollande. It is hard not to draw a link between the tragic events in Toulouse, and the Presidents rise in popularity – but his sensitive speeches and supposed tough stance since the events have seemingly struck a chord with a population reeling in shock. Arriving on the scene of the school shooting later on the same day certainly raised a few eyebrows from people who thought the police really didn’t need any distractions whilst they did their job, Sarkozy went on to send his foreign minister to the funerals in Israel. At this speech the foreign minister made the bizarre claim that “Every time a Jew is cursed, attacked, or injured on French territory, we will react. Attacks on French Jews are not just attacks on the Jewish community, but on millions of French citizens who cannot tolerate such behavior.” The cynical side of me can’t help think that what he means by this is the death of an arab or other French minority would not be given the same importance. The whole episode seems even more sad, as the week previous to the shootings Claude Guéant was aiming angry comments in the direction of the Jewish and Muslim communities, attacking their traditional slaughter methods amongst other things and saying they needed to do more to modernise in order to integrate better into French society.
Sarkozy has recently been trying to show more of his sense of humour, appearing on the French equivalent of The Daily Show, Le Grand Journal recently and laughing along with presenter Yann Barthes as he played a show-reel of embarrassing clips and gaffs. He has been constantly making what can only be described as ‘dad jokes’ on the campaign trail with the general public, and generally trying to shake the image of a glamorous out of touch millionaire and re-connect with the people.
The epicentre of balanced, fair and open-minded journalism (!!!) The Daily Mail last night published a story that Sarkozy has apparently attacked The UK AAA rating and deficit reduction measures, fueled by Standard and Poor stripping of the French rating a few months back. Whether there is much truth in the story is open to debate, as I can’t find this story in any other news agencies, it didn’t feature on French news and the journalist hasn’t been named in the article. Hmmm….
Hollande – PS
“Why do you think your campaign hasn’t evoked much passion from the French people?“, a journalist from Liberation asked the self-styled Mr Ordinary last week. Unfortunately, for someone who has modelled his election campaign themes so strongly on the successful Obama campaign, his lack of charisma and awkward campaign posturing has left an underwhelmed feeling with many voters. Certainly, some of his more extreme claims such as 75% taxes for top earners and separate swimming pool opening times for men and women in the Muslim community have been met by bemusement, even from those within his own campaign team who seem to have no knowledge of them being formal policy. Although the reaction that has met Hollande on the campaign trail, including the frenzy of Martinique recently – Hollande still looks slightly like a rabbit in the headlights addressing large crowds, and struggles to command a stage like Obama.
Sarkozy recently accused Hollande of acting “like Thatcher in London, and Miterand in Paris”, in relation to his mixed messages about the financial markets, and in particular the regulation on the City of London. You can’t help but feel that the events in Toulouse were a gift for the right, and it was very difficult for Hollande to know how to react to this. In the end he attacked Sarkozy for not doing anything to prevent the tragedy, and questioned how the authorities could keep him under surveillance, but not link him to the first or second shootings quicker. This was a fair point, but his message was being drowned out my the incredibly angry rhetoric from the right, who were seizing the initiative to dominate every talk show and news broadcast which followed. All very depressing…
Mélonchon – Front de Gauche
Mélonchon’s steady increase in popularity has surprised many, as he recently overtook the Front National in the polls. Mélonchon has the charisma which Hollande so painfully lacks. His campaign has recently been built around enormous rallies held in famous locations in major French cities. His recent Paris rally attracted many tens of thousands of people, all captivated by his fiery calls for the people to rise up and trigger a “civic insurrection”. He is due to hold a large rally on the Prado beach in Marseille this weekend, although it looks a bit too windy for me to trek down their to investigate!
His anti-capitalist leanings have attracted many who were left disillusioned and angry after the financial crisis. His policy claims go even further than Hollande in many respects, with the same promise of 75% tax band for high earners and a salary upper limit to re-address the balance in the French societies finances.
Many have also warmed to his vitriolic attacks on Marine Le Pen, although his attacks on the Anglo-Saxon and, particularly the English are a little personal for me! Speaking at a recent rally Mélonchon ranted “We speak fluently “globish”… the language of the occupier – the occupier of our minds” and “Our battle is a cultural battle”, he added, calling French the “language of the heart” and English the language of “accounting”
….. ok then, I’m definitely not going to your little rally now! Connard.
Le Pen – FN
Marine is still hanging about like a bad smell. As stated above, the recent shootings in Toulouse turned out to be an absolute gift for her anti-immigrant campaign, and yet somehow her percentage has seemingly decreased in the polls since. It was very interesting that immediately after the first few shootings, when the media was speculating that the perpetrator was a far-right extremist or Nazi like the case in Norway last year, Marine stayed suspiciously quite in the media. Possibly she was scared that it might come out that the gunman was somehow linked to her party in some way. As soon as it was established that the shooter was A) of Arab ancestry B) an islamic extremist called Mohamed and C) was unemployed and had his 500 euro per month flat paid for by the local authority VOILA! Marine magically appears on every single new channel going simultaneously, spewing her usual bile about immigration, integration and French identity.
What is even more shocking is how she has continued to use the case since as a sign of an out of control immigration system. At a recent rally in Nantes, when talking in relation to the shooting she said “they arrive here by boat, and take everything they can from us”. This is obviously a very dangerous thing to say, as the shooter was a French citizen born in France and hadn’t arrived in France at all.
One of the most interesting pieces of information coming in from the Front National in the last week is how popular they are with younger voters. In a recent poll Marine Le Pen’s party lead among voters aged between 18-25, which dispels the belief that the FN’s core vote is older people who still cling to the old idea of French colonialism. In the poll she scored a 26% rating, compared to Hollande in second place with 25%.
Bayrou – Movement Democrat
Finally Francois Bayrou, the centre candidate. Bayrou has had a relatively quiet campaign so far, and is still struggling to connect with a larger proportion of the French vote than the previous election. His worries about the French national debt in particular have seen his support drop, as it is seen as being unpatriotic discussing such matters.
Bayrou does, however seem to be the only candidate who can speak English. This may not seem that important to your average French voter, but it can be crucial on the world stage. Even Francois Hollande didn’t manage to speak any English at a campaign stop in London recently, and a visit to the labour party offices. He could have at least rehearsed “terrible weather today!” or “More tea please!”
Here is Bayrou talking in English…
…and here he is slapping a small child on a previous campaign trail for trying to steal his wallet. Nice!
I know there are a few Expats living in France who, like me can’t vote in the elections and view the whole thing with similar bemusement! I have created a anonymous poll below to see who you would vote for if you had the vote. I would be interested to see your answers.