30 Jan 2017

Quelle Président?

Hello readers!

Aujourd’hui Alex will give will his opinion on the French presidential elections. Why, you ask? Because Alex has a strong focus on international and, especially, European politics; and France is a key Member State. The French Président will make decisions regarding the terms of Brexit, the European response to both a revanchist Russia, and to Trump’s America. Moreover, this election is important in symbolic ways; it will give us a taste of 2017 and what it will mean for the forces of liberalism, conservatism, Marxism, and far-right nationalism.

So who is competing to become president of the République? The character cast comprises the following: a fascist, the male re-incarnation of Margaret Thatcher, two mad leftists (a post-scarcity utopian and a Marxist, respectively)... oh, and Tony Blair.

Well, not quite; this Tony Blair is French, for one. And although Blair did have fond feelings for the French—he addressed the country in French, and was given a very cordial greeting by the UMP—he was never, well, French.

Anyway, the man’s name is Emmanuel Macron. He was an investment banker before becoming an adviser for Hollande (the current president, if any of you don’t know); he was then subsequently promoted to being a Minister for the economy. But now, seeing how dismally unpopular the current president is, he’s decided to jump ship and form his own campaign (“En Marche!”).

As for the others, let me give you a quick rundown. We have Marine Le Pen, who is likely to obtain the largest number of first-round votes. She is the daughter of a fascist, and is of course a fascist herself. We also have François Fillon—the surprise candidate for France’s mainstream right, Les Républicaines—who is a Thatcherite. Lastly, we have Benoît Hamon—surprise candidate for Partide Socialiste—and Jean Luc Mélenchon, who, though an outsider, is de facto the candidate for the Communists and associated far-left politics.

So who does Alex think the French should vote for? Tony Blair, of course...

Mais Pourquoi, Alex?

This is not a particularly easy decision, in part because none of the candidates (as you may have guessed) are really ideal. But perhaps I can share my reasoning with you, and convince you to vote as such.

Let me be clear: Macron resembles Blair in more than just centrist policy and vague, feel-good rhetoric. The two are also similar in that both are quite dishonest politicians—they are masters of spin, however, and both convinced their electorates that they’re the Good Guys (TM). In Blair’s case, it was convincing everyone that he was a great, progressive politician, not beholden to corporate interests or neoliberal ideology; and in Macron’s case, it’s been about convincing the French electorate that a former investment banker is really an outsider ready to stir things up.

But even so, Macron remains the best option on the table. Allow me to firstly deal with the two main alternatives: Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen, as I have already said, is very, very, very bad. Her policies include (but are not limited to): dragging France out of the EU—likely destroying both entities—waging Cold War on Muslims, and ushering in an era of chest-thumping economic and political nationalism. The woman is essentially a Vichy collaborator, only her preferred foreign power is Putin’s Russia.

Fillon is basically a throwback to 1980s conservatism. Aside from his plans to cut 500,000 public sector jobs, ‘liberalise’ the labour market, and Thatcherise the economy, he also has another odious goal: to undermine gay marriage. It seems Section 28 continues on from the grave.

Once you understand who the two main candidates for the French presidency are, you will also understand my key imperative: anything but. Any of the other three candidates are preferable to these two execrable politicians.

Now, finally, onto the two remaining candidates. Hamon has been recently elected by the PS as their presidential candidate, scoring a surprise win against Manuel Valls, Hollande’s prime minister. On the surface, Hamon looks cool: he’s a radical leftwinger that beat the established candidate—a triumph of socialism over confused social democracy. But then, you look at his policies and his poll ratings. Hamon wants to a) tax robots b) reduce the working week to 32 hours and c) bring a system of universal income.

All of which would be great—if we lived in a post-scarcity society dominated by automation. Unfortunately, we don’t live in Utopia, and Hamon’s policies don’t make a whole lot of sense. Universal income would be impossible to afford unless it acts to replace social benefits, which would be idiocy: there are disabled people who need more than €750 a month to live on, and instead UBI would send money to millionaires. Taxing robots seems hard to implement, and pointless at best or Luddism at worst.

The last candidate, Mélenchon, is a nice enough guy. His platform is basically moderated Marxism: he wants to nationalise companies and regulate banks; he wants an increase in the minimum wage and also previously campaigned for a wage cap; he is a firm environmentalist, even supporting ‘degrowth’; and he wants to legalise cannabis.

I agree with most of his positions except cannabis and—more importantly—Europe. Mélenchon’s position vis-á-vis the EU is Marxist to an M: he thinks the concept of the EU is a great idea. As a supporting group, In Defence of Marxism, puts it: “Only a Socialist Federation of European States will unify the continent on a progressive basis, paving the way for a world socialist federation.” link

But, he thinks the current EU is contaminated by neoliberal economics; there needs to be a revolution, to replace the EU with the United Soviet European Socialist Republics.

Aside from being a bit bonkers, Mélenchon is polling at just over 10% of the vote. Recall the maxim I stated previously: anything but. It might be nice to have Mélenchon as president, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be elected.

And this is the important bit: to keep Fillon out of winning the first round, Macron needs to get as much of the left vote as possible. The race is very close. The latest polls put Le Pen on around 25%, Fillon on 22%, Macron on 21%, Hamon on around 16% and Mélenchon just below him. (Poll by Kantar Sofres)

Of course you might wonder whether the latter two can team up. Unfortunately, Mélenchon is reluctant to join the PS campaign (the party is considered toxic in leftwing circles) and so this is sadly improbable. Even if it happened, there is unfortunately no guarantee that Mélenchon would beat Le Pen. He probably will—most French people don’t like her very much— but Macron is more likely to succeed in this regard. If this changes (and there have been some surprises in this election) I will reevaluate my position.

Until then, my message is this. The last thing France needs is a run off between a homophobe and a fascist. So, to the French left, I say: vote tactically. C’est la vie.

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