Tidal Wave Fails to Devastate Rue de Solférino

Well, we shall wait to see the pundits explain exactly why the planned “vague bleue” for Nicolas Sarkozy failed to wipe out all traces of socialism in France as predicted. Leszek Kolakowski once described his Theory of the Infinite Cornucopia, which states that there exists an Infinite Cornucopia of reasons that can be invoked after the fact for whichever event actually happens. No doubt the cornucopia will be emptied and licked clean.

Le Monde reports – the PS has actually gained seats from last time, and the doomsodden predictions are exploded. Current forecasts put the UMP on 311-320 seats as against 359 in 2002, the PS on 210-212 compared with 149 last time out, the Communists on 17-18 (still in with a chance of saving their status as a parliamentary group), the Greens clinging on to four seats, the Nouveau Centre (the pro-Sarkozy UDFers) with 20 seats, and Francois Bayrou’s Mouvement Democrate with four seats. Le Pen gets zilch. Philippe de Villiers’ barking-right MPF gets anywhere between 2 and 6 seats.

It’s the leadership that suffered, though. Alain Juppé, the ex-prime minister and ex-con who was tapped to run a new, giant ministry of transport, infrastructure, energy and the environment, lost his seat in Bordeaux to the Socialist mayor. Arno Klarsfeld, one of the Right’s intellectuals, also got the order of the boot. Essentially everywhere, the MoDem voters swung to the Left.

So did François Hollande, although personally rather than politically. It emerged today that his partner, Ségoléne Royal, has thrown the First Secretary out of their home. Le Figaro found this such shattering news that they ran it on the front page lead, as a tiny news-in-brief ticker mentioned the insignificant detail that, well, the left got a majority of votes cast.

Laurent Fabius and Jean-Claude Cambadélis, who both rushed to the cameras with prepared doomsaying about how the PS must be “refounded” (translation = must be led by me), may be feeling a little stranded by the wave’s failure to arrive.

On the back of the drag curve

Jean-Marie Le Pen has, as per tradition, called for mass abstention in the second round. He always does this, but it’s likely to be significant this time round—obviously, if he was obeyed, the loss of 10.44 per cent would be a significant change in the rapport des forces indeed.

And you have to wonder why anyone who votes for a party that is little else than a cult of personality around him would not follow his advice. Still, most people seem to think his votes will go to Nicolas Sarkozy. I’m not so sure.

After all, you can rat but you can’t re-rat. If the pessimistic case is true—the FN didn’t do badly, its voters were stolen by Sarko—then they are already gone, leaving only the stahlhelmfraktion of diehards behind. Who are by definition unlikely to shift.

On the optimistic side, as previously noted, the pollsters placed Le Pen at between 10 and 14 per cent at the beginning of the campaign, and depending where they started, at the same value at the finish. Seeing as the trends, or rather trendlessness, all agree, it looks like he started off with 10 per cent and neither gained nor lost votes through the campaign.

That’s pretty dire for a third- or fourth-party insurgent, who you’d expect to benefit from campaigning, more coverage, and especially the last few days’ mandatory equal access. Me, I reckon AFOE’s demographic hobbyhorse is to blame, or credit. Very simply, Le Pen voters are old, like the man himself, and they are dying out. To achieve a positive rate-of-climb, the FN has not only to recruit new voters faster than it loses codgers, it has to find them from new demographics. (This can of course be overstated. The biggest voting block in the first round was composed of candidates who found it necessary to explicitly address people who are still pissed off about withdrawal from Algeria in 1962. And people say Britain hasn’t come to terms with the imperial past.)

Hence, no doubt, Le Pen’s stumping of the ‘hoods. It’s interesting that he has considerable support among the immigrants he railed against at the start of his career, but it’s observable that the FN is struggling to get off the back of the demographic drag curve. Presumably, Le Pen’s active life represents the remaining length of the runway—

In the short term, of course, he has to fend off the danger of being “Marchaised” by Nicolas Sarkozy—in 1981, the Socialists invited Georges Marchais’ Communists into a coalition, where they proceeded to nab much of their support. In the longer term, the chief challenge is to replace enough codgers to ensure a presence.

French Presidential Debate Notes

Style is clearly more important than substance in Presidential debates. Unfortunately, after 45 minutes of speaking time for each candidate, I was, quite frankly, very disappointed on both accounts. Neither Ségolène Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy were able to present coherent arguments of their respective programmes. Instead, they kept constantly interrupting each other, Royal more so than Sarkozy, kept losing discourse threads (sometimes even without being interrupted) in pointless debates about specific figures or jumped from one point to another. Sarkozy may have been a little more concise on the economic parts (taxes, pensions, labour market regulation, welfare) of the debate, but he certainly did not “win” that debate by any stretch of imagination.
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Une certaine idée de la France ?

It’s interesting that Emmanuel’s remarks about biased statistics about the French economy in Anglophone publications led to some comments trying to asses the extent to which France is perceived as “the other”, at least as far as “the West” is concerned. There have always been claims about a natural rivalry of the two main “universalist” western polities, France and the US, but there was, in my opinion, never too much hard evidence for such a claim. Still, intellectual traditions as well as institutionalised myths are often a very powerful element of public discourse, and sometimes even assume a certain life of their own if there are enough believers. In this case, there certainly are.

Since France will begin the process of electing a new President this Sunday, and since “Europe” wasn’t exactly a prominent subject on any candidate’s campaign agenda, I thought I share thoughts I once compiled with respect to the Europeanization of the French “other”, some parts of which have already been included in my guest post (in French) at publius.fr a couple of days before the now notorious French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005.
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