The election's giving me a headache

French journalist Frederic Niel explains why the poll makes you want to reach for the aspirin

Here goes the typical conversation in the France nowadays:

So come on now, who are you going to vote for?

I’m still hesitating. Generally, I vote Green in the first round and Socialist in the second round of each presidential election. But when Le Pen got to the second round in 2002 – to everyone’s surprise, since he was behind both Chirac and Jospin in the polls – I was sorry I didn’t vote Jospin from the first round onwards.

Many left-wing voters like me thought that enough voters would go for Jospin straight away, to let the socialist candidate get in just behind Chirac, and then that we could come together and beat Chirac in the second round. The result was that I had to hold my nose and vote for Chirac in the second round, to crush Le Pen. So, this year, I’d decided to vote pragmatically - “voter utile”. That is to say, I’d vote Segolene Royal from the beginning, so that she will get in behind Sarkozy and stop Le Pen from getting through to the second round. And so much for my sweetheart, the Greens’ Dominique Voynet.

So, you’ll vote for Royal?

It’s not that simple. When Francois Bayrou began to climb up in the polls, I told myself that voting for Royal might actually do nothing, and that splitting the votes of the centre-left public like me between Royal and Bayrou would simply play into Le Pen’s hands.

So, you’ll vote for Bayrou?

Not sure: I’m waiting for the final moment, I’m going to look at the last polls, and I’ll vote for Bayrou if he’s ahead of Royal, and for Royal if she’s ahead of Bayou. The important thing is that Le Pen doesn’t get to the second round. It would be too shameful.

So that’s the plan…

I don’t know. According to the polls covering second-round scenarios, only Bayrou could beat Sarkozy. Royal has basically almost no chance of winning the presidential elections. So why push her into the second round? But if I vote for Bayrou, since he’s behind Royal in the polls at the moment, I would simply have stopped Royal from having enough voices to take over Le Pen. And if he got into the second round again…

Well then, what are you going to do?

Well, since Le Pen is pretty low in the polls, and since there’s maybe little risk that he’ll get ahead of Royal and into the second round, I’m wondering if I won’t, after all, vote Voynet…


Yes: Royal, ultimately, may not need my vote, so perhaps I can afford the luxury of voting of voting for the Greens, for pleasure… having said that, if we all make the same calculation, neither Royal nor Bayrou will have enough votes to get past the first round, and we’ll have Le Pen versus Sarkozy. A surprise is always possible, like in 2002… I’ll decide in the voting booth. And you, who are you voting for?

Me? I’ve got too much of a headache this year. I’ll vote next time.

Frederic Niel is a French journalist based in Paris, who has worked for Reuters, Phosphore magazine and other news organisations.
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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.