I popped into the village pharmacy this morning with a prescription for valium. Not for me, I hasten to add, but for my epileptic dog. But I am sorely tempted to divert one or two doses for my personal use, as I prepare to help count the votes on Sunday night in the first round of the French presidential election.
I do not think it is exaggerating to wonder if, on the eve of voting, the fifth republic is going to collapse with a bang or a whimper. It may not even be necessary to wait for the second round of voting in a fortnight. There is a scenario in which it could all start to fall apart as soon as Monday morning, if the leading candidates in the run-off are Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Although nominally at the extremes of left and right, they share economic policies that are suicidal. It is doubtful the single currency or even the EU as presently constituted could survive either.
Even the least worst scenarios provide comfort only that the wreck will continue, albeit in slower motion. Should Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon go through, no matter who might be the ultimate victor, the prospect is for continuing decline, until in five years, we will go through yet another farcical election, during which extremist politics will have become even more entrenched. Though six possible second round match-ups are possible, none offer the slightest confidence that France can find a route out of its malign trifecta of political, social and economic decline. Not even François Fillon, the only politician in the race with an even vaguely credible project, looks likely to be able to implement his promised reforms.
Starting today, all the candidates and the broadcast media are obliged to maintain radio silence. No campaigning, no publication of polling. Whether this will help the 30-40 per cent of voters who have apparently still to make up their minds is unknowable. In any case, the prohibition will be ignored. An insurrectionist Twitter channel, #radiolondres, will become the unofficial conduit for the information the government would otherwise suppress. It takes its name from the BBC broadcasts to occupied France during the Second War. Exit polls will start to be published late tomorrow afternoon on Twitter, but not in French media.
This has been an unedifying and deplorable election that has left the French largely revolted. The candidates are all deeply unimpressive. The media has been terrible. Journalism is France is degraded and subservient to the establishment in ways hardly imaginable in Britain, where it hardly exemplifies probity. The voters are faced with a long and unappetising menu and if there is a single shared sentiment among the voters I talk with every day, it is disgust.
The modern history of France does not suggest that this is a nation with adaptable political institutions, nor that its vaunted traditions of liberty, equality and fraternity count for much when the chips are down. Monarchy has violently given way to revolution, regicide, restoration, empire, a succession of failed republics, religious wars, occupation and intermittent dictatorships, and now to one terrorist attack after another that the authorities seem powerless to prevent. The rest of Europe has never been immune to the consequences. The hour of glory has yet to arrive and no matter who ends up winning this awful election campaign, it won’t be arriving soon. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
Jonathan Miller is a councillor in southern France. He is the author of France, A Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown