Born about a month after the Tories' election victory in 1979 and consequently a couple of weeks too young to vote in Tony Blair in 1997, I am a true child of Thatcher in terms of datelines - I lived out my entire childhood and adolescence under Conservative rule of Britain without ever being able to do anything about it. Them's the breaks I guess.
Curiously, I am currently in a similar position as an 'adult of Chirac' as his reign as French president draws to a close after twelve years taking shifty backhanders and smiling earnestly at the French public whilst occasionally pausing to make xenophobic comments at international summits. How I shall miss him! Despite spending one Blair term of office at university before I moved across the channel, French politics has arguably exercised a stronger influence on my life over the course of the last decade than its British equivalent. Now that Chirac is two days away from handing over the controls to one of the twelve hopeful contenders looking to swipe his job as President of the Republic, I find myself again left to watch the action without being able to intervene directly and influence how the cards will fall - it would seem that fate has left me in the age bracket where I am destined to watch from the sidelines during the most important elections of my lifetime.
Still, the sunny side of all that is that I get to sit around ripping on the prospective candidates whilst everyone else has to furrow their brows over who they choose at the ballots - musn't fucking grumble eh???
On that note, here's my run-down on the twelve candidates looking to play merry hell with my country of residence over the next five years (complete with the graffiti from my local neighbourhood's election posters for added gritty realism!) :
Like the British Premiership, the French Presidentials this time round feature a group of four high-flyers with any sort of realistic chance of claiming the title and a whole bunch of second-tier muppets who are pretty much just playing for pride.
Top of the list in the polls as I write this is Sarkozy, current Interior Minister and France's most recognisable political personality. Most of you outside l'Hexagone will know good old Sarko
for his cheeky 'racaille' comments during the 2005 race riots, which earned him no end of support amongst taxi-drivers, traditionalists and the sort of conservative shirt'n'tie types who want the country to pull it's collective socks up and jolly well get on with it (Eoin, if you're reading this then think of Mr Jakubovic from school but with a French accent). His law and order policies are currently verging on Judge Dredd stomp-o-rama at the slightest provocation, a stance that has made him public enemy number one in the Paris suburbs as well as a hate-figure for pretty much the entire French left (check out the poster graffiti from outside my local primary school - I wish I could have caught the kid who drew that cock'n'bollocks combo so that I could have bought the wee tyke some sweets!).
Despite the tidal wave of left-wing opposition to his alpha-male posturing, Sarko has played the media perfectly over the last 18 months - topless early morning jogs, effortless domination of TV interviews and high-profile electoral campaigning has made him a feature of everyday life here and most of my friends seem practically resigned to the fact that he will probably romp home at the presidentials. However, there is still time to stop him - his presence in the second round is practically guaranteed but eventual victory will hinge on the person France chooses to stand in his way. If he does get in (and it may already be inevitable), France is going to get all shook up on a national scale and we are in for some serious clobbering time when his riot squads get unleashed on the suburban population just waiting for the opportunity to kick off bigstyle if he wins. Seriously guys - a serious shit/fan encounter is in line if he takes over as head of state. The French electorate can still stop him, but right now I get the impression that he's got them on the ropes already....
Leading the left's campaign this time round is 'Ségo', the Socialist Party representative who has been matched head-to-head in a battle for media attention with Sarkozy since they emerged as the two main candidates for France's next president. I was totally stoked when Ségolène became identified as the left's main candidate - not only was she set up to take on France's notoriously macho political upper echelons, but she looked pretty fantastic in a skirt for a lady the wrong side of 50. Plus, her politics were a modernised version of trad leftism along the same lines of Blair's New Labour but with firmer roots in the French social model - by way of a dream package, she seemed unbeatable.
Trouble is, once she was unleashed into the political minefield of electoral campaigning, Ségo has managed to Royally fuck her chances of winning via a series of foot-in-mouth press comments and one seriously nondescript style of delivery - even those willing to vote for her admit that her public speaking is about as engaging as listening to the shipping forecast. I reckon that critics have perhaps been too hard on her as the lone female candidate with a serious bid on the presidency - a lot of people seemed to be waiting for her to fuck up so that they could write her off as an amateur. Nevertheless, she's played right into their hands and even though she's second in the polls right now, the notoriously fragmented French left would not necessarily rally behind her in a second round face-off with Sarko. If she takes the presidency then I will get the drinks in, but I reckon the chances of her winning are pretty slim.
The surprise latecomer to the typically two-horse left/right electoral face-off, Bayrou's aim to bridge the traditional gap between the two camps has brought him a pretty large surge in support over recent weeks and he could well beat Ségolène into a second round against Sarkozy. However, his critics highlight the fact that his fence-sitting stance between left and right leaves him with fuck all in the way of actual policies (the poster graffiti desribes him as 'droiche', a halfway house between left/'gauche'
Bayrou's credentials are pretty solid as a man of the people - he comes from a hearty farming background and the fact that his dad got mangled to death in a tractor accident only enhances his image as the rootsy, grounded everyman candidate as opposed to the media-catered images of Ségo & Sarko. Imagine the UK Lib Dems if they ever stood a realistic chance of winning the elections and you probably have a decent idea of where Bayrou stands right now - what's more, I reckon he might be in with a real chance of dicking Sarko out of the presidency if the two of them go head to head in the second round (maybe that's wishful thinking but I can see France rallying behind him more than Ségolène Royal in similar circumstances). If I had a say in these elections then I reckon I'd go with Bayrou, for my money he's the only one capable of standing as a serious obstacle to five years of Sarkomania in the Elysée. Fingers crossed for the country boy!
Jean-Marie Le Pen
I probably don't need to describe this bozo to you, but in case anyone has ignored French politics completely over the last 30-odd years then let's just say Le Pen is the troublesome political turd that France has unsuccessfully tried to flush over the last few elections. He regularly polls between 15-18% (which for a unashamed racist bigot in a country of 63 million people is pretty fucking scary) and is shaping up to pose a similar threat this time round.
Most of my French friends have written off Le Pen and his Front National party this year, but the same mistake was made in 2002 when France seriously underestimated his level of support and he bagged a place in the second round at the expense of Socialist Lionel Jospin. I'm hoping the frogs won't piss on their chips in similar fashion this time round, but the FN menace still seems far away for most of my friends - trouble is, a lot of FN voters don't declare their political affiliations until they hit the ballot box, by which time it's too late to conspire against them. I sincerely hope that this bog-eyed Nazi fuckhead does not reach the second round of voting this time, but FN voters have a habit of clinging to their convictions and he may well surprise us all again. There is little chance that he would ever reach presidency, but many of my left-leaning friends claim they'd vote FN in a Le Pen/Sarko second round in order to keep Sarko out because they refuse to believe that the population would accept Le Pen as president and would instead storm the palace to declare revolution. Romantic dreamscapes aside, the only solution should he win would be for the rest of us to isolate the entire FN electorate along with their leaders on one of the Atlantic coastal islands which would then be renamed 'The Independent Republic of C*ntopia' and promptly towed off by the army to be moored off the coast of Greenland. Seems like a winning solution for all!
As for the rest of 'em, let's start with Arlette - Trotskyite scourge of the ruling right for nigh on 30 years now. As the head of France's 'Workers' Struggle Party' she has made a name for herself over past years storming out of political summits in a huff, dressing like a female version of Arthur Scargill and spouting ludicrous policies aimed at redesigning the Elysée palace as a collective turnip plantation. Seriously, even my commie mates refer to the 'Lutte Ouvrière' as a sect, with all the negation connotations that the French use of the word suggests. Cynics would rate her chances of winning around the same as those of a hedgehog trying to breakdance across a 12-lane motorway, but you never know - the revolution might happen after all!
France's Countryside Alliance candidate, Nihous has basically built his campaign around the active promotion of hunting, fishing and the general wanton slaughter of small furry animals - seems to be what they call playing for the rural vote. Whilst the main four candidates have spent a long time prattling about the suburban riots, Fréd has been quick to denounce such bias towards urban issues at the expense of countryside problems and the preservation of long-standing rural traditions (such as wife-beating, incest, drink-driving, suicide and bestiality to name but a few). I had to walk around for a while to find a poster of this dork that hadn't been plastered over with animal rights stickers and photos of mangled roadkill - he's no serious threat either but fair play to the guy if he can leech off some of the National Front support in the notoriously right-wing French countryside.
Winner of the prestigious John Sykes 'Presidential candidate I would most like to go for a pint with' award, Besancenot stands as representative for the 'Revolutionary Workers' Party' - at the tender age of 32, he is the youngest of this year's electoral crop. An employee of the French post office (that most reliable of public services), his policies revolve around protecting social privileges at the expense of the money-grabbing directorial classes. You can't quite see the clouds that someone has drawn around his head on the poster I photographed, but that pretty much sums up the amount of realism present in his politics - nevertheless, he will probably poll highest of the outsider candidates and much of this is down to his laidback approach in the media and all-round 'bloody nice bloke' qualities.
A cult figure in France due to his tireless support for anti-globalisation issues (which even bagged him a brief stint in prison), Bové will probably pull in a few votes but as a serious presidential candidate he is somewhat unconvincing - voting for this wurzel would be like supporting the singer of your favourite rock group in a bid to run the country. Similarly, his takes on French agricultural issues and European interaction are scarcely more open-minded than those of Le Pen and the idea of him actually running the country would be scary were it not so completely fucking ludicrous.
French-style communism is difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with this particularly Gallic twist on the formula - let's just say that the deep-rooted belief system that accompanies it stems all too often from being raised in a commie family or moving in predominantly red social circles. The Frogs don't seem to see the totalitarian trampling of human rights practiced in 20th communist states as something that could happen over here - we're far too open-minded for that sort of thing! The impact of a communist president would more likely be a slavish clinging-on to the French social model where we can all work 3 hours a week and retire at 45 whilst the country spludges into an economic compost heap and gets colonised by the Chinese to be used as a giant carpark. If you want to check out French communism in action, come over for Fête de l'Humanité and sit in on one of their debate sessions with a bunch of smelly hippies amongst sponsorship banners for Ricard and France Telecom. Marie-George might poll higher than the miserable 3% the commies managed last time, but even her trouser-suited media campaigns won't push her much higher in the polls.
Philippe de Villiers
'P2V', as the French call him, is basically a Gallic version of Kilroy - all puffy-chested nationalist posing, back-to-basics traditionalism and a shit-eating grin plastered across his face at all times. His connections to the French nobility only further his reputation as a snobby, uptight twat with little of interest to say about the modern world (this time, the poster graffiti simply describes him as 'crap'). The rising tide of nationalism has been capitalised by many of the other candidates so Phil's campaign trail has been pretty much ignored this time round - expect some hardcore support but not much more.
I love the way the Greens have to trot out a candidate every election like any of the rest of us would even notice if they disappeared off the map completely. Unlike in Germany where they command a more serious position in government, the French Greens just sit around talking about who grows the best courgettes or whose moustache stinks of rollies the most. Their candidate Dominique Voynet can't even muster a credible smile for her campaign poster, leaving what may well be the same person that defaced the Sarkozy poster earlier on to add a penile space-exploration vessel launching into the atmosphere behind her. I must remember to ask the Greens about their plans for the space programme next time they flyer me in the street....
Who the fuck is this guy???? All I can find out about him is that he's been nominated by the workers' party and that he's anti-EU - and what's more, his posters suck ass!!! I could have knocked you up something more inspiring on my computer in the time it takes the kettle to boil, you bog-tedious nondescript tosser! Fuck off for your general lack of noteworthy characteristics!
So there you have it folks - the entire French electoral landscape explained in layman's terms! I'll be drinking just off Place de la République from Sunday lunchtime onwards, so feel free to join me while I wait for the results to come in - I might pop out later for some merguez and water-cannon action if it goes to Sarko/Le Pen in the second round. Keep your eye out for me on the telly!