Good job I don’t have to vote in the French election

Today is the last day of campaigning in France’s presidential election (no campaigning is allowed on the last day before the big event, which is on Sunday). Party activists are swarming all over the place, and one tried to shove an Hollande leaflet into my palm this morning.

Absolument pas,’ said I, trying to sound as French as I could (two words being the maximum length of discourse at which I can attempt that trick). ‘So who are you going to vote for then?’ asked the activist in a tone of feigned surprise that suggested that François was the only possible candidate. ‘Sarkozy?’ He couldn’t have conveyed more contempt had he said ‘Hitler’. ‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘Who then?’ ‘The Bourbons,’ I said, expressing my heartfelt monarchist convictions. I then walked away fast, before the chap could act on his first impulse and call for the men in white coats.

Actually, considering the options, one might as well cast a protest vote for one of the royals, who these days keep a rather low profile. Choosing between two manifestly lightweight candidates is never easy, so good job I don’t have to. Being an outside observer is so much more fun.

It has to be said that, though the national choice does boil down to the two principal candidates, neither will carry our province, if history is anything to go by. Though I have yet to meet a local who ever admits to having voted for a La Pen, be that père or fille, they always win here by a landslide.

But it’s the national election that matters, and one can observe that both candidates seek to appeal to young, preferably teenage, voters. That’s understandable: grown-ups are better equipped to examine their policies and realise that there’s nothing but mendacious demagoguery behind them. That’s par for the course – why should French politicians be any different from ours?

‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,’ the Jesuits used to say. The point is clear: catch them early, and they are yours for life. Socialists of various hues don’t share the Jesuits’ religion but they do follow the same strategy. After all, Trotsky, who is still revered by many in France, once said that ‘the young are the barometer of the nation.’ More appropriate would be to say that the young are putty in the hands of assorted demagogues.

The two main contestants in Sunday’s election both want to make youngsters’ lives easier. Specifically, Hollande promises to make it easier for them to smoke cannabis, while Sarkozy vows to make it easier for them to get driving licences. Considering the standards of driving on French roads, Sarkozy’s proposed policy probably presents more of a public hazard. That, however, didn’t prevent him from claiming that Hollande’s policy is ‘irresponsible’, which of course it is.

Anything for grown-ups, gentlemen? ‘Mais oui!’ assures Sarkozy. Things aren’t so bad as they seem. Yes, the unemployment rate is still 10 percent officially, and dieu only knows what it is in reality. And yes, that rate among Sarko’s beloved young is nearer 25 percent, but that’ll improve now they’ll all be able to drive to work, while still abstaining from cannabis. And yes, France did lose her AAA rating. But look on the bright side, citoyens: the euro may be ‘convalescing’, but ‘there is no risk of it imploding.’ He’s right about that: there is no risk. There may be a certainty, but that’s not at all the same as a risk. All in all, the promise writ large on Sarko’s banner is France forte! A strong France. Yeah, yeah.

Your turn, Mr Hollande. What have you got in your locker? Apart from your slogan Change is now? What François has is his conviction that now is no time for austerity. The accent must be on growth. Splendid idea, that. And how will the growth be financed, you might ask, the price of borrowing being what it is?

François is ready for you. Since austerity, meaning a cut in public spending, isn’t on the cards, growth will be bankrolled by borrowing. Yes, but isn’t it awfully expensive these days? Here Hollande hits you with the second part of his double-whammy. Of course, thanks to Sarko’s having frittered away France’s credit rating, it’s expensive to borrow from the money markets. That’s why – are you ready for this? – François won’t go anywhere near them. He’ll borrow from the people’s personal savings – doesn’t France have the highest rate of them in Europe, Ireland apart?

Now things are becoming clearer. If, contrary to Sarko’s prediction, and in accord with that of just about every serious economist, the euro does collapse in a year or two, and Hollande has borrowed against people’s life savings, what do you reckon will happen to those savings?

Will François get the chance? Well, he is ahead in four out of six first-round polls and 7-14 points ahead in the second-round ones. But, with about 25 percent of the electorate still undecided, anything can happen. Suspense is still in the air, and the noise is deafening.

So deafening, in fact, that no one has noticed that ‘the barometer of the nation’ (the unemployed and unemployable young) is about to fall off the shelf and smash. I do hope the grown-ups don’t cut their feet on the shards of glass.   

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