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Postcard from France: On Decision Day

April 24, 2022

As I sat on my patio on a windy, drizzly morning in France, my spirits were lifted by the sight of a young buck sprinting past the garden towards the woods nearby. I know it was a buck because it had little horns. But I suppose it might self-identify otherwise, so perhaps I should call it they.

Here in the countryside, you would be hard put to realise that today France is about to elect a new president. I imagine traffic into the towns and villages will be a little heavier – in other words more than one car every five minutes. But there was no sign of that when I went to the boulangerie. And on the drive back, no evidence of the contest except for a couple of motheaten posters of also-rans, Zemmour and Mélenchon.

I don’t pretend to be familiar with the subtleties of French politics. But one thought occurs. The choice facing the electorate is similar to that available to the American people: between the centre and the right. In the US, the left hasn’t had a look-in for years, if ever. A deeply ingrained fear of socialism, and the inability to distinguish between so-called “progressives” and out-and-out communists has meant that anyone using the word “socialised”, as in socialised medicine, is seen by many as unAmerican.

In France it’s not so long ago that a socialist president was in power – most recently Hollande, and earlier Mitterrand. Now the socialists are nowhere, The two-candidate run-off system eliminated Mélenchon, who was France’s only serious option on the left, so his supporters have to choose between Macron and Le Pen. So now the French have much the same choice as my American cousins.

Who will win, and who should win? People I’ve spoken to are betting on Macron, but after the Brexit referendum and Trump’s victory, I don’t put much faith in received wisdom these days. Either way, as a Brit with a small stake in France’s prosperity, and whose politics lean towards the centre, I would go for Macron if I had a vote. That said, neither candidate seems particularly well-disposed towards my country. Whether that’s because our current government mainly consists of self-regarding clowns or there’s a deeper-rooted animus built on centuries-old rivalry is not for me to say. Certainly I can’t blame them, because the French don’t see politics as a business for clowns.

Another interesting aspect of the election is the argument that has gained traction not only in France but in my country as well. Marine Le Pen has drunk from the Russian money well. So according to her detractors electing her would be “helping Putin”. Likewise the disruption that might be caused if the UK tries to re-negotiate the Northern Ireland protocol signed as part of the Brexit deal would also, it is said, help the glowering dictator.

So it seems that any government with any policy that doesn’t pass the anti-Russia hygiene test is open to accusations that it’s soft on Putin. Just as fifty years ago it would be soft on communism. How gratified Putin must be that he’s become the bugbear-in-chief, around whom the politics of half the world revolves. If he’s achieved one thing, it’s that nobody thinks of his country as an irrelevance anymore.

I have of course been following events in Ukraine as closely as ever. One of my recent diversions has been to use Twitter’s translation facility for non-English posts. That way I get to read posts in Russian and Ukrainian. I can’t say that I’m reading a balanced spectrum of opinion in those languages, but getting away from the anglosphere for a while does provide a richer picture.

For example, I read a thread today in which Russians were discussing an order from the government both to state-owned organisations and private companies to identify employees under the age of 45 who have military training. Does that mean that the Russians are preparing for a general mobilisation? What surprises me is that the state doesn’t have that information already. Perhaps it does, but is using the measure to prepare the population for what might be to come. This is a development I hadn’t read about in any English-language media.

Back to France. As I mentioned earlier, the weather is not great. In the UK it’s often said that bad weather leads to low turnouts. This favours the Conservatives, apparently, because the less privileged voters – or, as the Etonians in government might say, the lower orders – are deterred from turning out in the wind and rain because of the physical difficulty of making it to the polling booths when one has to walk or take the bus. I’m not sure that these days that’s a factor either in England or in France.

Having said that, if you lived on our lonely little hill and you wanted to vote, you’d have a walk of at least three kilometres to reach the nearest polling station. I’ve never seen a bus on our nearest main road, so if you don’t have a car your only option is to walk. Since neither candidate seems to have the kind of community-based organisations behind them that exist in the UK, whose volunteers will drive little old ladies to the polls, I wonder if rural populations are missing out. If that’s the case, then perhaps Macron will benefit, since he seems to draw much of his support from urban areas.

But what do I know? About as much as the beautiful young deer that came visiting this morning. By the time you read this, the result will probably be known. At least one can say this with some certainty: the winner is unlikely to be as mendacious as Johnson or as batshit crazy as Trump. But be sure that whoever wins, the French will always have the ultimate deterrent: the barricades.

At a time when there seem to be so many unresolved crises – social, political and military, – the prospect of a decision is quite refreshing.

Vive La France!

From → France, Postcards, Travel, UK, USA

  1. I’m feeling really nervous Steve… I have that Trump/Brexit vibe going on in my head 🙁

    • Me too Ronnie. but hopefully lightning won’t strike three times! S

      • Oh my goodness, I do hope so. I’ve got a pretty decent bottle of cognac standing by just in case though. a bientot.

      • Good on yer! Many more to come I hope.

      • It’s looking hopeful Steve, and thank goodness for that. I never thought I’d write a “thank goodness” comment re: Emmanuel Macron, but as Winston Churchill once said of democracy (in paraphrase) “Look at the alternatives.”

        And I’m very sorry for not commenting much on your blog these days, but my RSI (repetitive strain injury) is going a bit mental on me lately.

        I always do read and appreciate your blog though so very much… It’s one of the very best things on the www.

        And if Macron does win, I’m going to crack open the cognac anyway, but in celebration!

        J’ai la frite!

      • Just saw this. I very much appreciate your appreciation! A friend once gave me a bottle of 1969 cognac, which we christened Summer of Luurve. It sent his wife to sleep after on small glass. Vive la France.

  2. debby moggio permalink

    I listened to an interesting talk/discussion the other day. It was recorded in 2018. If you have the inclination, you might go to YouTube and do a search for
    Pozner at Yale, 2018. That was how I found it after it was sent to me and I lost the link. If that doesn’t work, and you are still interested, please let me know.
    It is not directly about your topic today, but it is relevant to the wider mess in Europe and the US, and by extension, the rest of the world.
    I had to take it in little chunks… 10 or 15 minutes at a time, but I think it well worth listening to.
    Should anyone do so, I would MOST appreciate any feedback. Perhaps you knew already more of the background given in it than I, especially the parts about the end of the SSR and again the period as Putin was just becoming the official head of government.

  3. This article in ‘The Atlantic’ magazineby an eminent social psychology professor is well worth a gander too Steve & Debby – it explains in detail the absolute carnage that Facebook etc, has been causing to democracies all around the world since 2009, when the platform was changed to make extremist, crazy nonsense like QAnon etc, go more viral, and hence make more Facebook more $money…

  4. Thank you, Ronnie, for the link to the article.
    While I agree with most of what he had to say, I his last paragraph was a bit of a cop out.
    Yes, the points are a in a direct line of thought from the reasoning of the article, but that is also the problem. He offers no suggestions as to how to approach the problems or how to help engender discussion.
    It’s rather like saying, “there is another planet somewhere in the universe that has not been dirtied by humanoids. Our planet has been fatally dirtied. Therefore, we should go to that other planet.”

    I think the damage we have done is irreversible. I think the earth needs to get rid of “us” in order to begin to heal. I think the problems focused on in this article are just another nail in the coffin– another reason why we won’t be able to pull out of our downward spiral in time.
    (in fact, I believe it is already too late)

    On that happy note,
    thanks again, Ronnie, please let me know how many ways you think I’m wrong.

    Always happy to hear another point of view. How else to challenge my own?


    • Hi Debby.

      Sorry to say that you shan’t get any challenges of view from me – I agree with what you say.

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