Frelections: first post-election perspectives

The first post-election poll is in, and it has Hollande winning 54% to 46%. The inner workings are interesting; they reckon that 33% of the Bayrou votes go to the PS, 32% to Sarko, and the rest nowhere, 86% of the Mélénchon votes go PS, 60% of the FN go Sarkozy, 18% go PS, the rest nowhere. You can see why Sarko is still trying to get more FN voters.

IPSOS was within 0.2 percentage points of the current estimated result for Hollande, which is excellent, and 0.6 for Sarko, which is OK, but they were out by 3 for Mélénchon and 2.5 for Le Pen, so set your Bayesian estimator accordingly.

Also, here’s a chart of the FN vote over time:

Frelections: divers

Rundown of the statements. Hollande, perhaps taking the accusation of being dull to heart: “Plusieurs faits majeurs sortent de ce scrutin. Le premier est que je suis en tête du premier tour.” Le Pen says the vote lets her supporters join the table of the elite, an odd statement from someone who certainly won’t be in round two. Mélénchon reminds everyone to be anti-Sarkozy, i.e. passing his support to Hollande without saying so. Bayrou’s saying nothing much until he’s met the two leading candidates. Sarko wants extra TV debates, gambling on survival.

Results are being revised down a tad, with the gap between the leaders a little less. For what it’s worth, IPSOS’s exit poll crossbreak for working-class voters is as follows: Le Pen 30 %, Hollande 27 %, Sarkozy 18 %, Mélenchon 12 %, Bayrou 8 %. IPSOS also reckons the 2nd round will go 54-46 Hollande.

Here’s an interview with some FN activists, quite a few of whom won’t behave as expected in round two. Some estimates put the percentage of reverse switchers (FN->PS) at up to 27%.

And here’s a table summarising the polling data. Everyone seems to have over-estimated Mélénchon and Bayrou and under-estimated Le Pen, but the estimate on Hollande seems to be improving a bit as the results tighten up.

Frelections: Polling blowout

The first estimated results are in. 28.4% Hollande, 25.5% Sarkozy, 20% Le Pen, 11.7% Mélénchon, 8.7% Bayrou.

The final polls for Sarko were pretty much right, in the context of a margin of error of 1% either way. That makes him the only sitting president to lose the first round, ever. Hollande beat the spread by half a percentage point beyond the margin of error – which makes him the best scorer ever for the Left in a first round, and makes the polls look poor. The margin or error for the second-tier candidates is wider, more like 2 points either way. But with Le Pen coming in 4 percentage points over the last polls, 2 points out of the spread, and Mélénchon almost as far below the polls, it’s been a bad night for the pollsters. In fact, Le Pen beat her father’s record from 2002, and nobody predicted that.

French radio has already made the interesting point that Sarkozy had pursued a strategy of turning to the hard right in the final stages of the campaign, with a view to moving to the centre for the second round. This is a classic recipe for winning the two-round election, but it hasn’t been missed that it was Sarko’s adviser Patrick Buisson who suggested it, and he’s the former editor of the extreme right’s favourite magazine, Minute, one of many old extreme-rightists on Sarkozy’s staff. The problem is that he still needs to get the centre on board, but with 20% of the electorate to his right, he needs to cover that flank as well, which may well be impossible.

So, the Socialists and the FN won; Mélénchon, Sarkozy, and the pollsters lost.

Looking like the president

A longstanding attack line on Hollande was that he was a sort of vague fat guy. This was silly, in part – his biggest job in politics was running the PS organising machine, and that’s not the sort of thing you do if you’re flaky on details or unwilling to put in the hours. This NYT profile isn’t much cop but does contain something interesting.

He described how no one thought François Mitterrand, France’s first and only Socialist president, had a chance of winning. “Often people told me, ‘Oh, la, la, François Mitterrand, what charisma, what a president!’ But before he became president, they used to call him badly dressed, old, archaic, he knows nothing about the economy.” But the day he was elected, Hollande said, Mitterrand was transformed.

This is true. Back at the end of December, I took issue with the whole notion of being “presidential” on my own blog. I found that the last two occasions there was a change of prime minister in the UK both saw a strongly statistically significant uplift in polling data for the guy who got the job. In 2005, when Tony Blair remained prime minister, there was no such change.

If you want to look like the president, become the president. The qualities we think of as being those of the president are an artefact of the halo effect; we know he or she has them, because we associate them with the office.

Frelections: Mélénchon

Mélénchon. What’s that about? My answer is, basically, “performing Frenchness”, but we’ll come to that. Le Monde has a really good article on the degree to which the Front de Gauche and the Socialists are in violent agreement. Some of Mélénchon’s key social policy proposals, after all, appeared in Ségoléne Royal’s manifesto back in 2007, and they called her a weak-sauce Blairite. The PS is keen to play up the convergence, partly in order to compete for votes with the FDG and partly to signal that co-operation in government is a possibility. (In 1981 and again in 1997, the PS operated in coalition with the Communists, so there is a historical precedent for the extreme Left to be in government.)

The man himself vigorously denies that he’s trying to influence the broader Left. But he would say that. In getting concessions out of the PS, he needs to play hard to get. Further, in trying to drag the Overton window leftwards, it makes sense to increase the perception of extremism around his policies. But on quite a few issues, there is a sort of synergy emerging. Hollande wants to renegotiate the new stability pact, Mélénchon wants to put it to a referendum. The high probability that it would be rejected by a referendum would strengthen the French hand in renegotiating.

On the other hand, they disagree strongly about budget policy, and the price for joining a coalition currently includes signing up to support the PS’s budget.

Here’s a discussion of Mélénchon in the context of French leftwing history. This is rather what I mean by performing Frenchness. French political speech is marked by the politics of the orator – rather than a big tent, one rallies the people, implicitly at some vast mass gathering at the cross-roads of history. That’ll be history with a capital H, of course. (The horse is optional.) And so you get grey centre-right IT-director figures like François Fillon speaking texts that read like nothing but blood and thunder.

Mélénchon’s campaign has been all about oratory and mass meetings, the public theatre of the republic, implicitly opposed to the dubious politics of parliaments and bureaucracies. The big question about it is whether the emergence of a (reasonably) united left-of-the-left movement will tend to split the Left’s vote, or whether it will tend to mobilise it and legitimise more radical ideas. See also, the notion of resistance.

This ambiguity ran through 20th century French politics. Sometimes the Socialists and Communists reinforced each other, as in the Popular Front and the 1981 campaign. Sometimes, as in 1978 and 2002, they fought the real war against each other and the Right profited by their disunity. Of course, Mélénchon’s movement isn’t emerging, it’s re-emerging – the point is well made that it consists of the surviving Communist Party organisation plus the newer ones set up by successive stars of the far Left.

Mélénchon’s own discourse does tell us something about what he plans to do with the crowds he rallies in the public squares, the visible synthesis of the Republic and the Left. He regularly compares Hollande to George Papandreou, and refers to the concept of the Zapatero trap. This idea, which originates in the PS, basically says that to succeed, a left-wing government in France must take the European Union with it, rather than being stuck in an EU dominated by the neoliberalism of the 90s. My take here is that he wants to hold Hollande’s feet to the fire, and also to haul the European Overton window towards the sunshine.

Frelections: a tour of the manifestos

A few days ago, this half-French household got its official mailshot with the full set of candidates’ manifestos, from Sarkozy through to Jean-Pierre Cheminade, plus the kit of polling cards. You might be surprised by the consensus across them. Basically, the political nation has spoken, and what it said was “Piss off, bankers.” Now, the manner in which this sentiment was expressed varied a lot, and the concrete policy proposals to give it effect even more.

Two of the extreme-left candidates who didn’t join Mélénchon’s united front wish to default immediately on the national debt, for example, and they also want to seize the entire banking system by force majeure.

Mélénchon wants to amend the European treaties to explicitly permit central bank financing of the government, and is in general very keen on an inflationary exit from the crisis (is he perhaps a bit of a Modern Monetary Theorist?). He’s also quite keen on narrow banking, as are the extremists. But so are the Greens. And the Front National.

Hollande is strategically vague (as is Sarkozy), but does want to re-open the ECB charter, to regulate the banks more stringently, and to reorganise the various state-owned financial institutions into a national “pole”. The idea of a big public-sector bank is one that basically everybody seems to more or less support, in more or less centralised forms. Mélénchon of course wants a great national institution, presumably with a vast headquarters building somewhere in Paris, either suitably chic on the right bank or else in glass and steel out on the périf. The Greens see it as a network of local mutuals.

Similarly, a flavour of high Keynesianism prevails throughout. Everyone expect Sarko wants a big public works programme, and even he nods in the direction of stimulus. The exact content varies, of course. This threatens to run counter to EU doctrine, and pretty much everyone would like to redesign European institutions, although this is always framed as a demand for more European integration even when (like Mélénchon) it involves getting rid not just of the free movement of capital but even of goods within the EU. He’s actually more protectionist than the FN.

Being anti-nuclear power has been fashionable lately in France, and the manifestos are surprisingly far down that track. Obviously the Greens hate it, but hardly anyone wants to defend it. Hollande, for example, promises to reduce the share of nuclear in the energy mix over time, which seems to mean keeping the nukes and building wind turbines. But that’s as far as anyone will go defending it, with the exception of Cheminade. That one’s a bit of a phenomenon – his manifesto is basically the sort of thing you get on science-fiction blogs on a slow day, all about the vital necessity of developing the world with nuclear power, putting more effort into fusion research, and colonising space. And setting up a new national public sector bank, of course.

On the other hand, even the Greens only offer to suspend work on the development of future nuclear weapons, keeping the existing ones. Everyone seems to be in agreement on keeping the Bomb. Mélénchon wants to decommission the air-launched component and rely (like the UK) exclusively on the submarines, but that’s it. Despite that, the rest of the Green manifesto is very much an 80s classic – apparently all cancers have environmental causes concealed by the pharma lobby, and it’s an urgent priority to serve organic food in all school meals.

And the incumbent? Not much to say, really, except for appeals to authority in these difficult times, and micro-initiatives. But then, that’s the story of Sarkozy’s presidency – it might have worked had he not just managed to be elected in time for Depression 2.0, and the big question since late 2007 has been whether the Socialists would manage to pick a candidate this time out. That story was more exciting than we expected. And it is now at an end.


It’s French election day. The final poll (all survey fieldwork must stop by law several days before the polls open) is here, putting Hollande and Sarkozy level around 27% (+/-1), Marine Le Pen on 16%, Jean-Luc Mélénchon on 14%, and the rest tailing in well behind. Every poll for the last 12 months has Hollande winning by a landslide in the second round.

Le Monde‘s polling blog adds up the Left and Right camps here, and notes that the parties of the Left tot up to 46% of the vote in the first round, compared with 43.5% for the Right. This is a historically high score for the Left, as high as the wave that elected Francois Mitterand in 1981 although not quite as big as his re-election in 1988.

As far as the second round electoral maths goes, though, even if France invented the notion of a canonical left-right divide, it’s more complicated than that. Francois Bayrou represents a separate, independent rightist tradition to Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Front National support isn’t monolithic – a substantial percentage of FN voters are expected to switch to the Socialist candidate in the second round. If that survey is good, Hollande can expect to gain more Bayrou voters than Sarkozy, plus 83% of Mélénchon’s, and a substantial minority of the FN. There’s an assessment of polling accuracy here. Conclusion: pretty good, and improving.

Also, it’s worth noting that the shock of 2002 had as much to do with a bad day for the PS as it did with a good one for the FN. Marine Le Pen is on 16% in the final polls, 11 points behind the leaders, so it would take a polling catastrophe of astonishing proportions for her to make the cut. As a result, one of the biggest questions that will be answered tonight is which extremist takes third place. On a couple of occasions during the last month of the campaign, Mélénchon pulled ahead of Le Pen in the polls, and they are competing within the statistical margin of error, which is itself bigger for the down-ticket candidates.

A Mélénchon win (or rather first-loser) would force quite a lot of assumptions about European politics to be revised, and would probably bring about an epic bout of internal feuding in the FN. What influence he would have would depend very much on how well his ability to bring out the Left for a mass meeting translates into parliamentary seats in the elections which follow in a month’s time.

If you don’t want to read about the content, this is the post for you

So, a bit of Euro-summit processology and diplo-speak. Why not? This was a failure of diplomacy, after all – all the states involved are allies and have largely convergent interests, the problem is managing conflict politely, but here we are.

The first question I’d really like answered is why David Cameron didn’t take the same course as the other states that disagreed, and simply say that he needed to consult parliament. It is theoretically possible for a British prime minister to both sign and ratify treaties executively, but it’s been assumed since the first world war that they must be at least seen by the House of Commons, and anyway this one required some very serious legislation at the national level.

I can’t imagine that the Tory hard right would be anything other than delighted by the chance to kick it out, even if the fact of being consulted and given power over a real goddamnit treaty didn’t fix them in itself. Had the Commons killed it, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t just have been another ratification foul-up, like the ones we regularly have with Irish referendums and decisions from the courts in Karlsruhe. Of course, it might never have happened – the treaty will need ratifying, quite probably this will mean one or more referendums, super-majority votes, recourses to the supreme court, and the like.

This raises a further question. Why did we need all 27? They’re not all in the Euro. The Eurogroup is a thing, and the French especially are in favour of it. It is, I suppose, still considered important to pretend that everyone will one day join, but this seems a bit remote as an argument.

And why was daft pork like the location of the European Banking Authority even up for discussion? It’s the sort of thing you expect from someone like Berlusconi, whining that there’s no food in Finland in the hope of some marginal-constituency shiny. The best explanation I can think of was that somebody was hoping that this would derail the whole project, without spoiling Franco-German relations, but it got a bigger response than they expected.

Another way of looking at it is that the European Commission has come out weaker – the new new thing is a pure side-deal, even if the Commission (or at least its EMU Directorate-General) has been very austerity-minded. Either a full 27-state amendment, or a Eurogroup one, would have protected its status and special role.

But then, I seem to recall Daniel Davies arguing that the Commission could be seen as Germany’s soft currency lobby. There ought to be such a thing – it’s Germany! the great exporter! – but it often seems to be nonexistent. On the principle that a revived mark would rise relative to the euro, the logic goes, the European institutions are the lobby for a lower German currency.

If this is so, it makes a lot of sense that the German hard-currency lobby would want to cut out the Commission and even the ECB, which implies going for an intergovernmental solution. Form requires, however, that it stays officially all blue and yellow, so all 27 must be involved in a treaty revision. The French didn’t like the idea much, but liked the idea of openly disagreeing with the Germans less, and hoped the Brits would kill it. The Brits thought it was the final triumph of euro-socialism, or something, and over-reacted. As a result, it went through anyway, with any waverers whipped-in by being told that it was just the Brits being bad Europeans. I think this story fits the facts.

Revisiting the Eurodebate

This post of P O’Neill’s made me think of something. That is, the British debate on joining the Euro, and on Europe more generally. I was strongly pro-Euro, something which now looks as bad a decision as joining the Liberal Democrats was. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that had the UK had Eurozone interest rates in the 2000s, we would have had an even huger housing bubble and even more gigantic bank balance sheets, and we would have had to resolve them without being able to use the central bank as lender of last resort, and we would have been unable to devalue the currency as a stimulus mechanism.

Any counter-argument requires that the influence of the Bank of England in ECB policy would have been both powerful and right. The first is debatable, but we have to accept that the Bank didn’t restrain the housing bubble and also failed to respond to the crisis in the real economy in 2008, sitting on its hands and mumbling about inflation while the labour market cliff-dived and the bank regulators across the corridor frantically juggled with Halifax-Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, and Northern Rock. Also, the early 2000s situation of a bubbly periphery and a stagnant core would have been even worse with the London housing market in the Euro, and it’s hard to say how that would have panned out.

But what were we really debating in the 90s?

The arguments in favour, at least the economic ones, were that we might benefit from being fully integrated in a bigger trading bloc, that we would benefit from currency stability, that lower interest rates would be nice to have, and that the Eurozone restrictions would be a force that would require industry to be more competitive (or did they just mean lower wages?). The arguments against, at least the economic ones, were that the Stability & Growth Pact would be an anti-Keynesian force for deflation and that the option of devaluation would be removed.

Then there was a whole lot of other stuff. A lot of the “for” side thought it would make us more European and meant by this that it would make us more social-democratic (or Christian-Democratic, or even Free Democratic), although I don’t think any of them could have articulated a mechanism by which this would happen. I suspect that for a lot of us it was a bit like the Estonian MP who told Tim Garton Ash that “Europa ist…nicht Rußland!”, or in our case, Europe was not-America.

A lot of the “against” side seemed to agree with the idea that joining the Euro meant the triumph of social democracy, because they at least claimed to think that the European Union was an inherently socialist institution. Some of them still think this now, when it has imposed structural adjustment on three European countries in order to avoid the nightmare of fiscal expansion in Germany. Others took the Friedmanite line that currency adjustment was a form of free market competition and therefore desirable. This was at least defensible. And others thought that it was a scheme to redraw the UK’s internal borders or replace the flag or something.

The interesting contradiction here was that the same people who worried that we would be unable to devalue the currency were also fervent austerians who didn’t believe in demand management of any kind. It was as if they believed in hardcore new classicism up to the point where it affected their re-election. How could it happen?

Obviously, whether you felt the SAGP would be useful discipline or an anti-Keynesian straitjacket simply depended on whether you expected the economic problem of the 2000s to be inflation or deflation. But the economic argument that was very rarely discussed was the one that is now fascinating everybody – exactly how the Eurosystem, rather than the Euro, would function in a financial crisis. Apparently this was discussed in specialist circles, but it didn’t make even the best of the national press.

To sum up, I agree that the yes side was wrong about fixing the currency. To be honest, when asked, I always said I was in favour of joining if we could join at a significantly lower exchange rate. The benefits of which Jaguar-Land Rover just demonstrated. But this is a cop-out on my part. On the other hand, I think the Eurosceptics and some of the conservative Europhiles should accept that they were wrong about the SAGP – yes, Virginia, inflation was a phantom menace, and the ghosts of 1929 were not finished with us. And we can all agree that we were all wrong about the banking and financial aspects of the Eurosystem, in that we didn’t even bother to argue about them.

I promised to blame somebody in the last post. Here it comes: the key European politicians, especially the French and the Germans and the European Commission officials, who designed the Euro and the Eurosystem. They created a system that had a structural deflationary bias in an era of deflation, one that delivered rock-bottom interest rates to countries in the grip of land fever, and one that couldn’t cope with a banking crisis although it included the biggest banking system in the world. And then they kept putting up interest rates. What’s worse is that they now have the gall to give lectures about virtuous savers – even when they are the same individuals, like Wolfgang Schäuble, who were in power in the 1990s.

Why you shouldn’t trust the WSJ piece on BNP Paribas

The Wall Street Journal Europe has published this morning a market-moving opinion piece claiming to reveal serious funding troubles at French bank BNP Paribas. The article opens with an alleged quote from a BNP executive:

We can no longer borrow dollars. U.S. money-market funds are not lending to us anymore. Since we don’t have access to dollars anymore, we’re creating a market in euros. This is a first. . . . we hope it will work, otherwise the downward spiral will be hell. We will no longer be trusted at all and no one will lend to us anymore.

On the face of it, the quote didn’t seem that outlandish: the major French banks have a significant amount of the bad kind of European sovereign debt in their books, have not written off the potential losses quite as extensively as others have done and thus stand to suffer dearly in case of a Greek default. You could also argue that French banks haven’t always been 100% straightforward in their defense. And it’s not like hints of a dollar funding problem at a European bank haven’t surfaced in the past weeks.

Still, there are many reasons to be extremely skeptical of the article. Continue reading