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19 April 2007

Marvelling from the sidelines

New Statesman reader Shirley Curran kicks launches Le Blog with her view on the closing days of the

By Shirley Curran

In this last, lively few days before ‘le premier tour’ the media here is dominated by the elections. Every news item begins with a reminder that the big day is Sunday. We hear which towns all the ‘minor’ candidates are appearing in at the hustings each evening (small places like Nantes or Macon that don’t usually get much publicity but are ideal for the fringe candidates to drum up extra support) and all of the official candidates have had equal ‘radio time’ since they managed to get their 500 mayoral votes that allow them to stand.

We even heard from the ‘rural candidate’ – the ‘hunting, shooting, fishing’ man. (Big hunting country here – every Frenchman likes to go out with his dog and gun and shoot anything that moves be it duck or household pet – at least, that’s the local attitude – ‘Keep the pets and the baby in on Sunday – the huntsmen are loose’).

Mme Royale seems to be losing ground, partly because of a few ‘gaffes’ like the one about Quebec. She is suffering because her rivals are putting about the rumour that she is without a real policy but, of course, the fact that she is a potential woman president has influenced female voters.

All the same, in this country area of French Jura, the very placid, obedient and gentle farmers’ wives still remain housebound and wear the traditional smock. The men have the say and the women cook, clean and work very hard but are likely to vote for men. However, ‘La Zapatera’ was a favourable ‘nickname’ I heard today (likening her to Spain’s popular Zapatero).

Sarkozy looks like reaching the second round with perhaps a coalition of Bayrou and Royale as his opposition, though there is plenty of political shuffling going on between those two as neither is willing to admit that they might have to combine forces to prevail in a second round.

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Sarkozy sometimes gets a bad press here as an aficionado of the police state type of government and a Gaulliste. ‘National’ values have been talked of by anyone who could make hay with them but I truly don’t know what substance there is behind the mouthings about ‘Marianne’ (she’s the lady on the French stamps who is supposed to embody all things French – she is trotted out at political times like these).

There is a deep ingrained fear reaction against Le Pen, (regarded as a sort of French Neo-Nazi but strikingly successful five years ago when he reached the ‘deuxième tour’ – many of those who had voted for him then panicked and changed their minds in the second round) but many people here in this rural area are convinced Le Pen supporters.

José Bove’s last minute achievement of the necessary 500 signatures pleased a few of the environmentalists but I don’t believe they would seriously consider him as a potential president – it’s a lot of posturing and the local farmers haven’t a lot of time for people whose mission is to trample and pull up the crops – he has a police conviction and is serving a ‘suspended sentence’ isn’t he? (That doesn’t really mean much – just a warning to “be a good boy if you don’t want a rap on the hand in the form of ‘prison ferme’ – behind bars – next time you pull up genetically modified sweet corn”).

Today there has been a fuss about all the political propaganda that the ‘facteur’ is supposed to deliver (for a pittance) – a number of French regions refusing to ask their postmen to handle the bundles of election mail (we usually get a leaflet for each candidate – flimsy coloured things outlining policy).

I haven’t seen any yet and the hoardings are poster free (for the moment) though there is normally a fairly comical progression of posters with each new one obliterating the previous ones (pasted on top) then months when they wear out, fall off and dirty the fields – we had Le Pen turning up in the garden every time the wind blew last year – a waste of time for him as foreign residents get no vote in the Presidential elections (only in the local ones). We stand on the sidelines and marvel and enjoy.

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