‘Catastrophic’ was the unsurprising verdict of those I spoke to on the afternoon of the first round of the French elections in Parc Monceau with Honor Bishop, the 10 year old daughter of friends I was staying with in Paris, if Marine Le Pen won the second round of the Presidential elections.
University Students we spoke to were more likely to vote for Emmanuel Macron, on account of his age (39) and a programme which mixed fiscal discipline and a public spending programme of $60 billion in savings over five years. The budget deficit would be kept below the EU required threshold of 3 per cent and the labour market would be reformed to give companies more flexibility to negotiate working hours and pay but the welfare state would also be extended to allow entrepreneurs and the self-employed to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Older members voted for the conservative Republicans candidate François Fillon who proposed a supply-side economic strategy with cuts in public spending, loosening restrictions on the length of the working week, and raising the retirement age. All retiring civil servants would not automatically be replaced and the working week would be increased to 39 hours. The pensionable age of retirement would be raised from 62 to 65 and special early-retirement provisions would end for state workers. Fillon, a social conservative would limit adoption rights of gay couples and advocated closer ties with Russia. All those we spoke to in the park were unconcerned about Fillon using parliamentary funds to pay his wife as a parliamentary aide or putting his children on the payroll and often compared Fillon favorably to Margaret Thatcher.
One middle aged man sitting on a park bench with his wife basking in the sun commented that many of the younger generation who had voted for Jean Luc Melenchon didn’t understand the dangers of Melenchon’s programme as they hadn’t experienced the threat of the Cold War and Communism or indeed had much knowledge of history. When Honor and I asked which candidate he had voted for we were told in no uncertain terms that he had voted for Fillon who as far as he was concerned had the best programme and was not interested in the parliamentary funds scandal.
Marine Le Pen may not have had many supporters in Parc Monceau but scored highly in rural areas on her message of protect forgotten France from austerity, globilisation and immigration. The Tuesday after the election she announced that she was no longer President of the National Front but a Presidential candidate (presumably to widen her appeal ahead of the presidential election) and on Saturday she backed down on her commitment to hold a referendum on the EU within 6 months and announced that quitting the Euro wasn’t part of her economic programme.
Our conversations in the park reminded me of a friend who stayed with me shortly before the Referendum who announced that ‘Cornwall, Devon and Somerset’ were out. Living in London I hadn’t realised how strong the feelings in the countryside were against the European Union. In Parc Monceau we couldn’t find a single Le Pen supporter but anybody I spoke to living in a rural area would say that support for Le Pen, even in small villages, was strong.
Emmanuel Macron has the endorsements of both François Fillon and Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate who defeated Manuel Valls for the nomination. So even with a strong rural vote for Le Pen, I would go with the flow and suggest that Emmanuel Macron, the ‘neither left nor right candidate’, will be the next President.