“Devil’s advocate”: undoubtedly one of the cleverest and most frustrating roles known to mankind. When discussing the upcoming French elections with my beloved father, he took it upon himself to play devil’s advocate by asking ‘why should people care about the French elections when there is enough drama going on in the UK?’
After throwing a small tantrum about his phony small-mindedness, I realised he was pushing me to think about this productively. When thinking about the media attention given to America in the most recent presidential elections, the whole world tuned into the Trump hullabaloo (a silly word for an ultimately silly situation) – aside from the entertainment factor, why did we care so much about what was happening in politics across the pond? The Guardian puts this down to the UK’s ‘collective insularity tempered only by a worship of all things American’.
But engaging in foreign politics goes further than that, it appeals to our global responsibility. The resulting analogy went something like this: if you were shot in the leg in battle, and so was your comrade, you would obviously tend to your own leg – maybe first, granted – but you wouldn’t leave the other wounded person to suffer and just tend to your own injury, would you? You would check to see if anyone else was around to help, do whatever you could to get them to safety and then ensure the safety of others.
So what have we all learnt from that very complex analogy? We are all part of the same army, the same world – the army may be divided into single bodies, but ultimately we are only impactful when together, especially important when there are crucial problems to be addressed. Borders are damaging to any hope for global solidarity and if we only care about what happens within a national parameter, then what chance do we have for a working, universal apparatus? Now that I have made that all crystal clear, let’s learn and care about the French elections.
The system in France is very different to the highly democratic system that we have in England – First Past the Post, where voting takes place in constituencies that elect a single MP each. Voters put a cross on a ballot paper next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. It is a ‘winner-takes-all’ system where all other votes count for nothing.
In America there is the madness of the Electoral College that decides the fate of the country. Across the Channel, however, the French use a Two-Round System of voting; in the first round, more candidates run and it is said to be a vote with your heart. Those with above 12.5% of the vote proceed to the second round, where it is said you vote with you head. The first round of the upcoming elections will happen this Sunday and the deciding round will be on May 7.
With a fond farewell to François Hollande, whose popularity ratings have dropped to an unprecedented 0% at times, it is with a varying degree of open arms that we welcome the 11 candidates to the electoral stage. The four main candidates are Emmanual Macron (Independent centrist), Marine Le Pen (far-right Le Front National), François Fillon (centre-right Republican) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far-left La France Insoumise).
Just to get an idea of the wacky set-up of the French political system, it’s worth introducing the other 6 candidates briefly, who stand next to no chance of winning the election, with all about an estimated 1% of the votes, and cover a very colourful spectrum of ideas and agendas.
Nathalie Arthaud: Trotskyist, prohibition of redundancies and job cuts, big on workers rights.
François Asselineau: Nationalist, seeks withdrawal from EU, euro and Nato. Thinks Le Pen is too moderate.
Jacques Cheminade: anti-EU and euro, believer in conspiracies – wants to colonise Mars and industrialise the moon, has likened Barack Obama to Hitler and accused Queen Elizabeth of being involved in international drug trafficking.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan: similar to above. Anti-terrorism at heart of his policies. Friend and fan of Nigel Farage.
Jean Lassalle: mayor of a tiny hamlet of 160 inhabitants in rural France. He is descended from mountain shepherds and proposes a return to compulsory national service.
Philippe Poutou: union leader at a Ford car plant and is head of the New Anticapitalist party whose slogan is “Our lives not their profits”. He suggests scrapping the post of president.
Benoît Hamon: legalisation of cannabis and 50% of electricity renewable by 2025.
Pretty varied, right?
What is really important to hone in on is the tight race between the four front-runners. Emmanual Macron, only 39 and the former economy minister, is head of ‘En Marche’, a party refreshingly described as neither left nor right. He proposes a €50bn public investment plan for job-training, renewable energy and infrastructure. He also wants to reimburse glasses, hearing aids and dentures, which is lovely. Also on his agenda are big cuts to corporation tax, renegotiation of the 35-hour week and the initiation of a €500 ‘culture pass’ for 18 year olds. Very business-minded and modern.
Marine Le Pen, described astutely by John Oliver as a demagogue, has brought the Front National alarmingly close to a potential victory. Her two leading policies are a French Exit and a hardline on immigration, with the “automatic” expulsion of illegal immigrants and legal immigration cut to 10,000 per year. She is also twice divorced…would her success in love reflect her success in French politics? Food for thought. She is up there in the big leagues with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, populist figureheads who I genuinely struggle to believe have souls. Isolationist, anti-globalisation, environmentally negligent, elitist and shamelessly racist; these monsters are growing in popularity thanks to faintly veiled fear-mongering that dupes the ordinary man and woman into believing the self-seeking agendas of these politicians will somehow trickle down to help local communities. Bore. Me. Later.
François Fillon, despite recently under media fire for allegations of using public funds to pay his wife and children for non-existent jobs, is not far behind Macron and Le Pen. Fillon would like to scrap half a million public sector jobs, as well as the 35-hour working week as well as removing the wealth tax and strip jihadists returning from the wars in Iraq or Syria of French nationality. Perhaps he looks quite tame next to Mme Demagogue Le Pen, but to me his ideas seem to favour elitism and would do little to dissolve the intense anti-Muslim sentiment in France.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the French Communist Party, is known for his razor-sharp wit and his unexpected recent surge of support. Among his impressive manifesto are policies such as: a voting age of 16, a “Sixth Republic” to replace the existing one, greater powers for the constituent assembly (voted in by proportional representation), EU treaty renegotiations to ditch austerity measures and pursue an environmentally-friendly plan of state spending. Very admirable policies also count zero homelessness, reimbursement for prescribed health care and the recognition of ‘burn-out’ as an occupational disease among political objectives.
There you have it: the low-down on what is happening in France. And it is massively important what happens on May 7th in France; it could dictate the future of the European Union, as well as whether we, as a global population, will continue down the path towards a world where politicians do not care about the homeless, immigrants, accessibility to education and healthcare or actually start to address the massive ethical and moral adversities that wreak havoc on every corner of society. And that is why this election is vitally important in its outcome, and, if you are at all concerned about the future of 21st century society, it could be wise to pay attention.
You don’t have to be religious to understand the term ‘love thy neighbour’. What kind of humans are we if we don’t look to those around us first with kindness before hostility? This goes for neighbouring countries as well; first of all care about what happens in France because it will affect the UK and our individual futures, but moreover, we need to remember that at the heart of a pro-European context is the idea of solidarity.
For one second let’s leave out trade deals, currency rates and immigration quotas. What were all those years at school learning about teamwork for, if not to transfer them to our general approaches in life and see the global network as an opportunity for teamwork, rather than as a threat?
words by Lorna Powell