After the excitement of the announcement of our General Election, pundits are now fretting it may be dull – due to the easy predictability of the outcome. Those who enjoy politics as a competitive sport may prefer to turn their attention to France where the first round election being held tomorrow could scarcely be closer or trickier to call.
The centrist – Emmanuel Macron, the nationalist – Marine Le Pen, the Communist – Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the Conservative – François Fillon, are all clustered on around 20 per cent. Macron was recently very slightly in the lead. But the latest terrorist attack on Paris this week – which saw the murder of a policeman – will have heightened concern about Islamist violence which is not regarded as a strong issue for Macron.
Le Pen is presenting herself as a strong leader. Her calls to instantly reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services will resonate. The argument that Frexit is required to take back control of immigration is hard for her opponents to refute.
But there is a paradox that a Le Pen Presidency would be a formula for a weak Government. That is because her Party, the National Front, would struggle to win a majority in the legislative assembly elections in June. A President unable to get a programme through Parliament – for Frexit or anything else, is reduced to being a figurehead.
Fillon, despite being beset with scandal, can at least offer the prospect of being able to deliver a functioning Government. He has written a book, entitled Beating Islamic Totalitarianism, which has been well received. That strengthens his credentials as being both serious about the challenge and robust in how to respond.
Perhaps we may end up with Fillon and Le Pen in the final. If so, that would show how meaningless the terms Left and Right have become. Le Pen favours socialist economic policies of higher tax and spending, more regulation, and hostility to free trade. Yet she will be described as “far right”. One would have thought that the high unemployment rate in France would have offered conclusive evidence of the failure of her approach.
Fillon offers more sensible Thatcherite remedies.
Of course, the terms Left and Right come from the French revolution and describe where people sat in Robespierre’s Legislative Assembly. While they may have had their differences, the Left and the Right were all revolutionaries in a repugnant cause of mass terror and class war. Surely as Conservatives our allegiance should be for those on the guillotine.
Still, perhaps having lumbered the world with this misleading political vocabulary, it will be for the French to use their political choices to demonstrate beyond all doubt just how meaningless the terms have become.