I popped down to the Salle du Peuple on Sunday to see how the voting was going in the departmental and regional elections. Although I’m no longer a municipal councillor – à cause de Brexit – and am no longer required to help invigilate the polling, I thought I’d take the temperature. Which was frosty.
The French have a reputation for strong participation in elections, but not this time. By the time the votes were tallied, the winner was clear. Abstention won by a landslide. Two-thirds of my commune’s voters stayed at home, reflecting the national turnout. It was the lowest participation in at least 25 years and a vivid illustration of the rejection of voter confidence in every single candidate and party.
Nationally, the results were a debacle for candidates aligned with unloved president Emmanuel Macron, whose lists scraped barely 11 per cent. Things were equally bad for the hapless rightist Marine Le Pen, candidate of the Rassemblement National, née the National Front, whose hopes of leading the vote in numerous regions came to nothing. She managed a first-round lead only in Provence, and it was unimpressive.
The traditional left, with 15 per cent and centre right, with 28 per cent, did better, perhaps signalling that disillusioned voters are retreating to the traditional parties, although with no enthusiasm. The extreme left lost support everywhere.
It’s difficult to say who was more humiliated. Not one of Macron’s ministers – four of them were candidates in a system allowing politicians to accumulate multiple offices – achieved sufficient votes to make it to the second round.
It was a catastrophe for Le Pen, whose hopes of creating a launch pad for next year’s presidential contest turned to dust.
After a campaign in which her incoherence was palpable, almost 75 per cent of her traditional voters stayed at home. It was also a deeply unimpressive result for the greens, proven to have negligible support outside the big cities. And it was a reminder that French opinion polls are telling us almost nothing useful. Just days ago, Politico Europe was proclaiming that Macron’s support was surging, preferring to recite the dubious polls and studiously avoiding leaving their offices to talk to actual voters.
The results suggest that politics in France is entropic. Le Pen is utterly hopeless. She’s terrible on television, economically clueless and has a terrible staff. She has uttered not a single memorable phrase throughout the campaign. Many on her flank of the political spectrum are ready to ditch her before the presidential campaign, which she cannot win. Eric Zemmour, the acerbic author, columnist and star commentator on CNews, is increasingly likely to oppose her in the presidentials next year.
Macron’s hubris has led him to the possibility that he might not make it even to the second round in the presidential vote, in less than 10 months. His obsessive Europeanist ideology and the inept management of Covid remind voters that his presidency has been a complete failure on every front. His proposed economic reforms have stalled. He’s failed to get a grip on the degenerating security situation in which swathes of the country have become essentially ungovernable. His narcissism grates. When he got slapped in the face by an angry voter a few days ago, many applauded. This round of voting was not so much a slap in the face as a right hook to the jaw. He has united France against him.
Before the second round next week, it’s too early to be anything other than tentative – and the perverse electoral system might still produce surprises. But the silent voters represent an unambiguous rebuke to a French political class that fails and fails again.
It looks like the French have cancelled both Le Pen and the president.