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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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.