Out there - Dordogne

Lauren Booth hears the grumbles of expat voters

A recent incident gives a clue to how British expats in France would like to vote. It was a 50th-birthday dinner. Over duck, chips and cases of wine, the talk inevitably turned to crime back in the UK: the expat dinner-party equivalent of the English "schools and house prices" whinge. Everyone apparently had an elderly mum or dad back home "too afraid to go out because the youngsters are out of control". An ex-company director-turned-amateur golfer explained: "The problem is that Jamaicans are genetically predisposed to rape and steal. And the police aren't allowed to say it." Seeing my face, he added a line that could have come straight from a Lynton Crosby strategy meeting: "It's not racist to face facts, it's common sense." I stood up and left to howls of "Ooh, touchy" and "Bolshy lefty - tsk".

Out here, what passes for an exhaustive electoral debate is usually a hotchpotch of right-wing soundbites, glued together with a rather tragic sense of colonial superiority. Even while Bob the builder and Charlotte the chateau-owner say they love the French way of life, they still titter patronisingly about the tiny beer glasses and the oh-so-dreadful paperwork these "foreigners" still use.

Michael Howard isn't popular, though. There is no greater sin among Brits abroad than wasting their hard-earned cash, and the cuts of Black Wednesday still run deep. Howard is remembered as part of the "boom and bust" brigade. Tony Blair fares little better, although the Iraq invasion, according to my straw poll of pool-owning Brits, received 90 per cent support.

Britain under new Labour may have moved further and further from the two-party past. Yet here, amid the foie gras and the vin rouge, the old political value system remains unchanged: nowhere can there be people more likely to vote as their fathers did (and for roughly the same reasons) than in France.

In this electoral Valley of the Lost, voting relies heavily on that pre-1997 system of left versus right. The Conservatives still hold all the high cards. If you're a royalist, you vote Tory. If you like low taxes, you vote Tory. If you dislike it when foreigners don't speak the Queen's English, you vote Tory. But the proxy voting system is both time-consuming and confusing.

The leaflet obtainable from embassies, consulates and a gov.uk website is unappealing and unclear. The postal ballot demands you remember where you lived in the UK when you last voted and, in any case, the papers can't be guaranteed to arrive in time for you to fill them in and return them to be counted with the other votes. That must go some way to explaining why, despite more than 200,000 Britons living in France, the expat turnout stands at roughly 14,000.

And let's be thankful for that. If the expat vote were taken into consideration and chased by this government, the campaign would be reduced to slogans such as: "Immigrants are ruining Great Britain", "Muslims aren't like us" and "Healthcare should be paid for - well, a bit".

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