Five things we’ve learnt from…the French elections

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Austerity ousted?

‘Spend more, cut less’ seems to be Mr Hollande’s mantra. The proverbial tightening of belts has been occurring all over the continent for the last couple of years but to supposedly little avail. Hollande wants to loosen the buckle a bit…we’re not talking full on Christmas-time, swap-for-tracksuit-bottoms-style loosening, more like post-Sunday roast, feet-up in front of the footie loosening. He wants to spend his way out of the crisis. He wants to create new jobs and renew interest in unfashionable ones. He won’t be able to do any of this because Angie Merkel isn’t going to let him. It’s a bit like how your Mum makes you keep your belt done up when there’s company round because otherwise you’d look like a slob, but you think you might have started to constrict the blood flow to your lower extremities so you beg her for a bit of leeway. She just tells you to stop making a fuss and to get on with it. I never thought I’d get so much mileage out of such a crap analogy.

Promising more jobs, higher taxes for the super-duper rich and the colossal corporations and a lower retirement age for some peeps, it is clear that a vote for Hollande was a vote for a Socialist agenda. Which is a big deal in some respects. France hasn’t had a Socialist President since the early eighties. However, the reality is that not a huge amount will change because French economic policy is largely dictated by the whims of the Eurozone (or Germany in other words). Hollande will do his best to boost public spending and the like, but the truth is he’ll have to make do with the pocket money that Mummy Merkel gives him. Poor diddums.

Youth in révolte

I forgot to mention that this article will be peppered with largely useless, nominal French words; mainly to add to the air of pretension and detract from the overall coherence of the piece. As such, this election has reinvigorated the French youth’s joie de vivre (tenuous at best that one) with regard to political engagement. Hollande himself said that he is the ‘President of the youth of France’ and it is true that without the support of this particular demographic, Mr Hollande would be drowning his sorrows with a cheap bottle of Merlot from the local magasin de vins whilst Mr Sarkozy would be arrogantly striding (mainly to keep up with his missus) along the Champs-Élysées or some other stereotypically French place to chat about how his diminutive stature and narcissistic tendencies won’t affect his prowess during his second term in power (just kidding…there’s no way he could lie so overtly in public.)

Yes it seems that this election really captured the imaginations of the under-25s in France. Either that or the state of the nation for the last couple of years pissed them off enough to make them try and do something about it. I’m gonna go with the latter because lets be honest, neither frontrunner exactly possesses the wit of Marcel Marceau or charisma of Gerard Depardieu, nor do they really espouse revolutionary or outlandish policies that would make someone drop their croissant into their café au lait (how much more stereotyping can I fit into this article? Read on to find out!).

In fairness, Hollande did much to allay the fears and encapsulate the hopes of young people in France. He is seen to be simple; unrefined and straightforward but with strong convictions. He also crafted an image of commitment to inclusivity by meeting with and personally addressing minorities and people of varied backgrounds on many occasions (this likely helped him achieve over 90% of the Islamic vote). These factors, coupled with an ability to communicate to the young on a level without a hint of either condescension or pandering, (and the fact that he isn’t Sarkozy), meant that securing the youth vote was not easy, but definitely simple for Hollande.

Turnout turned out great

It is a generally accepted principle that voter turnout has been in decline in most western democracies for the last fifty or so years. Not so in France. They have often been the country to say ‘baise toi’ to political convention and as such turnout in Presidential elections has rarely dropped below the 75% mark, with this years’ coming in at just over 80%. To put that into context, if an election in Britain saw a turnout of over 70%, political scientists would be running down the street naked with expressions of complete incredulity on their faces. Mild chaos would ensue, curtain and blinds’ sales would skyrocket causing an unexpected spike in the textile industry, creating a boom that would last only until the next election upon which turnout would again return to normal due to the overall increased contentment of the nation as a direct result of the textile boom. Or something like that anyway.

Okay so Britain doesn’t have Presidential elections so the comparison is perhaps not particularly useful, (but we had fun with it didn’t we). A more apt example would be that of the last US Presidential election, in which turnout only reached 63%. And that election featured the first ever black man to run for office against the oldest man in the world who had survived a P.O.W camp in Vietnam and couldn’t lift his arm up as a result. This French election had an annoying short French man against a slightly less annoying and less short French man. Big whoop. Oh no…wait I’ve gotta give two more reasons why it was actually interesting! Shot myself in the foot there, didn’t I? Anyway…

Extremely popular

Depending on your view, one either very worrying or very positive result from the first round of elections was the percentage of the vote attained by extremist parties: in particular the French far-right and its leader Marie le Pen, who received almost 20%. Extreme right-wing views are relatively pervasive throughout Europe at the moment, with parties attributing economic woes to immigration levels or some other such piece of tenuous, misinformed bullshit reminiscent of the Third Reich (you might be able to work out which view I take on such ideologies).

Is Le Pen’s vote-share something to be deeply concerned about? Probably not. It is worrying that nearly 1 in 5 French people appear to be unashamed racists. It is worrying that a lot those people are in fact under 25. What makes it less worrying is that much of this youth support was clearly a protest vote against Sarkozy rather than a statement of xenophobic or racist inclinations.

So whilst the far-right did better than expected, nobody will be particularly fussed in the long-term. Yes they might be crazy fools, scared of anything remotely different to themselves and they probably smell bad (ironic generalisation…anyone?), but in a working democracy it is important to let them have their say. And then pat them on their almost hollow heads and say ‘well done for having a go at this politics stuff…it’s hard, I know’.

Redundant Incumbents

When times are bad, people blame the big guy upstairs. Not God in this case, but the leader of the country. Sarkozy is the 11th leader to be ousted since the start of the economic crisis, with major casualties including Mr Gordon Brown of Blighty (although his general rubbishness didn’t help) Signore Silvio Berlusconi di Italia (although his general pervertedness didn’t help) and Señor Jose Zapatero de España (although his…actually his loss was pretty much directly due to poor economic performance. So yeah.) Is it fair that this is the first-hand response of disaffected publics? Yes. And here’s why…

As the leader of a nation, your primary duties and responsibilities include keeping your people reasonably content, keeping unemployment as low as possible and not spunking a load of your country’s money on frivolities of whatever variety. Anything you do above this is a bonus. Okay so when the whole world’s economic precipice has collapsed, it might be tough to maintain these duties but as they say (who? I have no idea) prevention is better than the cure: if these governments were in power prior to the collapse, then it was probably a bit their fault. So yeah, they should be kicked out. I know that might be the most basic explanation of governmental responsibility with regard to our fiscal crisis ever written. Good. Let’s give that explanation to some five year olds so they don’t repeat our mistakes. Maybe take out the bit about spunking though…

Oh yeah, French elections…umm so to surmise, Hollande’s in, Sarkozy’s out, Youth are in and out, political scientists may well shake it all about. Merde happens.

 

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