Written on the subway walls

My comments on the French election posters, which appeared in bulk last weekend with the formal beginning of the campaign, after which strict equal-access rules apply…

The ruling principle is the difference between those who want to be elected, and those for which the style of candidacy is most important.

Those who want to be elected are keen on getting votes, by the silliest means. Those who don’t expect – or seriously want – to be elected are keen to be seen to be doing politics how they wish it was done. Hence Sarko, Bayrou, Royal, and Le Pen’s posters are all centred on the candidate’s face, which is meant to convey their virtues but also their context.

For example, Sarkozy’s face appears, well-lit, from a darkened landscape, above his name and nothing else. Subtext – I am a leader without party, come to relieve our darkness. Join! Francois Bayrou’s is not that dissimilar, which should not really be surprising given that he thinks he really is without party, and that his party used to be more rightwing than Sarko’s as recently as 1994.

Ségoléne Royal’s face is inevitably the centre of hers, but what is this? Grainy, monochrome photography, with a block red masthead and italic, bold white Helvetica type. It looks like a 1970s leftwing paper’s front page from some demonstration, presumably intended to lend some revolutionary romance to her image (and herald a last-minute tack to the base?). More importantly, it’s easily the best-designed and most recognisable of the lot, rivalled only by…

Le Pen’s, which shows the man himself on stage, looking astonishingly like Ian Paisley. Like the Man Standing in the Gap Left By God, Le Pen’s political career is founded on his stage performance. Makes sense, and is at least legible. His far-right rival, Philippe de Villiers of the MPF, is a borderline case. No-one thinks he will get a significant vote, but he probably thinks he will. Notable is the odd look in his eyes – his party is very much the UKIP to Le Pen’s BNP, appealing to Catholic farmers rather than secular townies, and like them, he could well be described as a swivel-eyed loon.

The others know they won’t be elected, and have their explanations ready – the election system is against them, the media is controlled by the armaments industry, France needs a more deliberative system. So they are free to design as if everyone in the country would stop to read every word. Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguillier, and the risible Schivardi stuff theirs with reams of text, illegible without making a point of visiting every poster – which is what they wish you would do, and they choose to imagine a society where everyone would. Voynet’s just look like they were left over from last time out.

Another Trip to 50-50 Land

It’s getting terribly close…

The last two opinion polls in the French elections put Royal and Sarkozy level pegging in the first round, with one of them showing nils apiece in the second round too. With numbers, the first poll, carried out by CSA on the 21st, shows Royal on 26 per cent, Sarko on 26 per cent, and Bayrou on 20. The second, by LH2 for 20 Minutes, puts the top two on 27 per cent each.

The really interesting thing is that both polls also measured voting intentions for the second round. CSA showed Sarko and Sego breaking 50-50. LH2 put Sarko up 51-49. But that’s not the really interesting thing. To both come in at 49-50 per cent, the top candidates will have to gain about 48 percentage points between them. Obviously, if you voted in the first round, you’re likely to vote in the second. Which poses a question: how’s it going to happen?

Francois Bayrou’s support is around 20 per cent. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s is 13 per cent. Olivier Besancenot is at 3, Arlette Laguiller at 2.5 (up 1.5 per cent!), Marie-George Buffet 2, Frederic Nihous 2, de Villiers 1, Voynet 1, Schivarni 0.5. A total, then, of 44 per cent up for grabs. Out of which, say, 9 per cent can be attributed firmly to the Left and 15 per cent to the Right, before the difficult question of how to attribute Bayrou’s voters. Assuming the Le Pen/de Villiers vote goes to Sarko, that would put the balance at 35/42 of the original vote..but how do the Bayrou Boys and Girls break? At a minimum, the Left would need to hold its ground, then persuade 7 percentage points of Bayrou voters – not far off a third – plus a majority of the remainder to switch.

Not that this is reflected by Royal’s rhetoric..

Nothing is obvious and nothing is clear

Ségolene Royal’s campaign is doomed. The total vote for the Left is polling (32 to 36 per cent) almost as low as it was in 1969, when the second round vote was between a Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, and a centrist/classical rightist, Alain Poher, with everyone to the left crashing at the first turn on a total of 31 per cent.

Ségolene Royal is on course to win. Her polls, ranging between 24 and 27 per cent, are as good as François Mitterand’s in 1981, when he got 25.8 per cent, not a mountain more than the Communist candidate, Georges Marchais, who had 15.3 per cent . And, since 1958, the left has always been in second place after the first round, even when Mitterand won the run-off. The French elections remain fascinating, even though many of the delightful possibilities have boiled off.
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Heeding Henry.

Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, may be coming out of the dog house – if only conceptually.

After even the left leaning German daily taz recently began publishing political obituaries for the man who more than anyone represents the political maturing (or not) of the generation of ’68 (following the affair about problematic political guidelines leading to criminal exploitation of German visa policies in Eastern Europe and in light of the looming federal election that will likely lead to a government without a Green party participation), Mr Fischer may have decided that it might be worthwhile to spend his remaining time in office not just by campaigning for a permanent German seat in the UN security council but by heeding Henry Farrell’s advice about the opportunities of a dieing European constitution and going back to his own foreign policy ‘roots’: In May 2000, he used a speech at Berlin’s Humboldt University to sketch out his ideas for ever closer union, “From Confederacy to Federation” (pdf available).
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