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Is the French election headed for a run-off between Jean Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen?

France's Jeremy Corbyn is in touching distance of the French presidency. Can he reach it? 

The pollster changes, but the result stays the same: Jean Luc Mélenchon, the radical left candidate for the French presidency, is surging in the polls.  Up to 17 per cent with Ifop, Elabe and Harris, and up to 16 per cent with Opinionway.  He is miles ahead of Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate, has slumped to 10 to 9 per cent in all the polls.

For Mélenchon, finishing above the Socialist Party – which he left in 2008 after more than three decades as a member and elected representative – would be a victory in of itself, but the best could yet to come. One Kantar poll puts him in third place, ahead of François Fillon, the centre-right’s candidate for the presidency, just six points behind the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Crucially, in all of these polls, the gap between Mélenchon and a top two finish – under the rules of France’s electoral system, if no candidate can get more than half the vote in the first round, the top two candidate go through to a run-off – is smaller than what is left of the Socialist Party vote.  

Can he do it? Mélenchon’s surges have coincided with the two televised debates, in which he performed well, and was declared the winner of the second, 11-candidate contest. There was to be one more debate before the first round of voting on 23 April – on 20 April. Another strong performance, coupled with a poor performance from either of the candidates he must overhaul could have seen him through to the second round.

But equally, a strong performance from Hamon, an effective debater who was off his game in both debates, could see a reversion to the mean. Hamon is now close to the seven to eight per cent that François Hollande was polling by December 2016, so it may be that he is closer to the Socialist party floor vote than he appears, making Mélenchon’s task harder.

Macron, too, turned in what the pundits generally declared to be a poor performance in the first debate and a slightly improved one in the second, though the polls immediately after declared him the winner of the first and the second-best after Mélenchon in the second. But a stronger performance in the 20 April debate could also have stopped the bleeding and hurt Mélenchon.

In any case, at Mélenchon's urging, that debate has now been cancelled. Mélenchon must now hope that the buzz around his candidacy can carry him over the line, which is a tall order. 

That aside, it is still perfectly possible that Mélenchon could beat either Le Pen or Macron into the top two, and face the other in the final round. It's worth noting though, that he enjoyed a similar surge before the 2012 election before falling back. He also underperformed his final poll rating slightly, so there is reason to be bearish about his chances. 

What would happen then?  There is a maddening dearth of final round match-ups that exclude Le Pen, but many of the wider political forces that would be brought to bear against an anti-system candidate of the far-right would likely be brought to bear against one of the far-left, advantaging Macron in a Macron-Mélenchon contest.

The more difficult question if what happens if Mélenchon faces Le Pen in the final round. According to the polls, he beats her by a greater margin than François Fillon but a smaller one than Emmanuel Macron. (For all that it’s worth, that’s my hunch as to how it would play out too.)

But there’s an important caveat here. The first is that the big variable in the second round is what the defeated candidates do. Do they urge their voters to keep out the candidate of the Vichyite National Front as they did against Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002? Or do they sit on their hands?

What is undoubtedly true is that France’s large corporations and banks won’t weigh in behind Mélenchon, although the extent to which that is a plus or a minus electorally is up for debate. But it may also be that the centre-right’s politicians sit on their hands or worse, say outright that the two candidates are as bad as each other.

A lot of the bullishness about the obstacles to a Le Pen presidency hold on the idea that the “republican front” against the far-right that the left erected in order to put the centre-right Jacques Chirac back in office.  It may yet turn out that the centre-right is less willing to return the favour.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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