Seconds out! With round one kicking off - excuse the mixed metaphor - one month today there are ten candidates for the presidency of the French Republic left slugging it out in the, increasingly media-centric, ring. And that ten includes, Marine Le Pen, leader of the nationalist right wing Front National (FN) who, after months of whingeing about the "disgraceful injustice" of a system that requires 500 anonymous signatures from French elective officialdom for any given candidate to become eligible to stand in the first round, has scraped through. Not that it has done her any real good as the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, leading the UMP, confirmed one of the worst ever secrets of the last four years ie that he would stand for re-election, and has been stealing Le Pen's fire ever since.
François Hollande, the socialist party candidate is the man with everything to lose as he sees his long held lead in the opinion polls diminish to the point where the first round appears to be anyone's. Well, not strictly anyone's, as much as Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou, leader of the Democratic Movement, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far left Leftist Party, would like us to believe as they all, with roughly similar scores in recent opinion polls ie 12-14%, have a last dash chance of getting through to the second round. No, no, they haven't.
Eva Joly, (left) the candidate of the Green Party. I'm not entirely certain why she should be so disliked unless it is because she is originally from Norway ie not "proper" French and yet a video of her (no, not that kind of video), explaining the Norwegian political system (which btw is a model to be aspired to) shows her to be a very approachable, affable and considered woman. She was Reader's Digest European of the Year in 2002. Perhaps that is why she is stuck at 2,5% in the polls?
The remaining four wanabees have dignities to retain as intact as possible and potential influence or perhaps even roles in government as seems to be the fashion even where coalition is not the determiner. Bayrou is vaguely centrist, sort of conservative in a nice-ish way, with some support but he is destined to continue bobbing up to the political surface briefly, before disappearing again till next time. Pity. He seems, potentially, to be a man of some substance and gravitas with little of the showy politicky hubris of say, Sarkozy, and more statesmanlike than Hollande has thus far demonstrated himself to be. Le Pen has not managed to hold on to her advantage of last year when, briefly, she led the polls as Sarkozy has merely shouted a little louder -mostly showmanship of course - about some of the issues dear to her ideology and to the prejudices of her followers. Think UKIP/BNP. He has thereby managed to close the gap with Hollande but there is as yet little evidence of anything but a win in the second round for Hollande. Of course, events such as have unfurled in Toulouse play directly into the hands of an incumbent who can fluff up his feathers and make some political hay whilst that sad sun shines.
Le Pen has a brilliant idea about withdrawing from the Euro and going back to the Franc. A New Franc - or maybe Franc Nouveau (FN)? - would be worth exactly the same as a Euro and indeed on the international markets we would still trade in Euros, euro Euros rather than euro Francs. Simply genius! We've been having a lot of fun with that one. Perhaps we could do away with old centimes and just call them new marines?
Sarkozy has told us that if we, I use the term collectively but excluding myself as I have no right to vote in this election, have the audacity not to re-elect him, then he will disappear from political life. Depending on which side of the fence you sit this is as much a threat as it is a promise. And is there anyone "better" to replace him from within his own party. Then again the French just regroup and rename and voilà "new" party with "new" ideas.
Why do the French continue time after time to support their political elite when that elite has largely failed the country over the last three decades? Probably for the same reason that in the UK either Labour or Conservative governments have done their best/worst for many many decades. The current arrangement in the UK being an aberration although so many appear to see it as an abhorrence.
Just six weeks and a bit and we'll know whether the status quo will continue with or without a new person at the helm, or, and it's a very big or, perhaps the French will vote for something else.