All The More Reason


Presidentielles 2007: The Royal Mint
February 20, 2007, 8:10 pm
Filed under: French Politics, French Presidential Elections

Segolene Royal seems to have performed satisfactorily in her first ‘grand oral’; an exercise that sounds much more interesting than it actually is. If French television does one thing well, it’s three hour long, live political debates. The socialist party candidate, ‘resplendent in a white jacket’, as one incorrigibly male French journalist had it, will hope that her performance onTF1’s I Have a Question to Ask You can arrest the decline in the polls that, we learn today, has prompted her to reshuffle her campaign team.

It speaks rather well of the French public that last night’s marathon broadcast – not so much a debate as an epic Q&A session with her cocitoyens – managed to garner almost 10 million viewers; that’s some 30% of the audience for a programme that started just after dinner and ended just before bedtime.

The ‘representatively sampled’ members of the studio audience in these programmes are not so much participants as useful props for the politicians to illustrate the pertinent parts of their programme. And what a well selected collection of props they were! All human life was here: from the slightly unhinged oldster who opened the questioning with a rambling and schizophrenic metaphor involving ‘passing the rugby ball of responsibility’ at the same time as ‘performing surgery’ on the nation’s finances, and who gave ‘Dr Royal’ the chance to promise a 5% increase in pensions for the poorest pensioners; to the wheelchair-bound man with multiple sclerosis who had been somewhat unceremoniously plonked in the middle of one of the aisles. Royal deftly, and much to the chagrin of one hapless TF1 producer, used this as an example of the discrimination that disabled people still face in France today. Without pausing for breath, she laid a consoling hand on the chap’s shoulder and promised that the particular administrative defect in the allocation of disability benefit that he had been wheeled on to bring her attention to would be ‘sorted out’.

Royal, it seems, had promises for everyone: for the young and the elderly, the promise of free healthcare- ‘the mark of a civilised society’; for those in low paid work, a promise to increase the minimum wage ; for pupils, the promise of ‘made-to-measure’ education with personal tutoring; to parents, a doubling of the ‘back-to-school’ allowance; and for the cynical small businesswoman who questioned la candidate socialiste‘s ‘figures’, there was even a promise that she ‘would not promise what she could not deliver.’

The question of costings could well prove to be the undoing of Royal. Apart from vague generalisations about ‘the virtuous circle’ and ‘win-win situations’, her flagship proposal to link the rate of corporation tax to the way companies use their profits – lower rates to those that invest in research, development and training; higher rates to those that give more to their shareholders – was the only concrete euro-raising measure to be mentioned. Unlike in the days of Mitterrand, for whom many of Royal’s team – herself included- once worked, the strictures of the single currency now limit the potential for fiscal largesse. Banks cannot be nationalised, and the government no longer has the ability to produce money from thin air. Predictably, Royal has already cast herself in the role of the mother who wants to ‘get France’s house into shape’. Unless she gets her story straight, opponents in the UMP will be only too happy to portray her as the profligate ma who shuts her children up by showering them with sweets.

Elsewhere, the ‘third man’ of the Presidential election, the centrist Francois Bayrou, is starting to get underneath the skin of the UMP. We know this because the latter have officially announced that they are not worried about polls showing that Bayrou would beat their man, Sarkozy, by 52% to 48% in a second round tete-a-tete . Of course, Bayrou has to get to the second round first, and – barring an improbable, but not impossible kamikaze candidacy by Jacques Chirac- he will most likely have to woo the left in order to get through at Royal’s expense. In recent days, Bayrou has made heavy-handed advances to this constituency, stating that he would be minded to appoint a socialist Prime Minister should he get to the Elysee. The last two presidential elections have both seen third placed candidates unexpectedly come through the middle to reach the second round: in 1995, it was Chirac; in 2002, it was Le Pen. Bayrou can only hope that 2007 is his year.

Michael P

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