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Monday, April 23, 2012

One French Socialist Edges Ahead of Another

By Daniel Hannan

There was never any doubt that a socialist would win the first round of the French election. This is because, with one partial exception, all ten candidates favoured socialist policies. Sarkozy fought the election promising to make France 'stronger than the markets'. François Hollande wanted a top rate tax of 75 per cent and a massive expansion of the state payroll. Marine Le Pen ditched her father's anti-scrounger rhetoric and ran on a platform which, on economics, was well to the Left of Sarko's.

Of the other seven candidates, one positioned himself between Sarko and Hollande, one fought as a Green and no fewer than four stood as Trotskyists. The only candidate who would have been considered Right-of-Centre in another country was the Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who secured less than 2 per cent of the vote – and even he freighted his rhetoric with a good deal of protectionism and anti-Americanism.

There will be much comment in tomorrow's papers about a lurch to the Left, jittery markets, the threat to the FU Treaty, the threat to the euro, but I don't expect to see much change. 'Hollande is to the Left of Sarkozy's rhetoric, but he is not to the Left of Sarkozy's record', says a French friend, one of the few genuine libertarians in that country. She, like many French free-markteers, has cast what the French call a 'vote blanc' – in effect, a spoiled ballot.

Just as they agree on protectionism and dirigisme at home, so Sarko and Hollande favour it in Brussels. Don't be fooled by the sham fight about the FU Treaty. Whoever wins, France will remain wedded to a powerful and profligate EU. Both men want a big bailout fund, pan-European taxation and a crackdown on 'the markets'. Merkozy might morph into Mellande; from a British perspective, it will make little difference.

To explain what has just happened, we need to use two French words, neither of which translates exactly into English. The first is insécurité which, in a political context, means a generalisted angst about immigration, crime and the loss of social benefits. People are never so tetchy as when they are inwardly nervous, and the French electorate presently has a great deal to be nervous about. The second is immobilisme, a word which originally meant the failure of governments in the Third and Fourth Republics to change anything.

In those days, immobilisme was supposed to be a product of the electoral system. Now, it reflects the mood of the nation. Most French electors are, in a sense, casting 'votes blancs'. Few are voting in the expectation of a better tomorrow. The chief appeal during the second round will be 'Vote to stop X!' rather than 'Vote for Y!' The ballots cast will be preventative ballots, pessimistic ballots, grumpy ballots, ballots cast with a disdainful Gallic shrug and a scornful exhalation. C'est égal.

Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the European Union is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free.

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