The lovely Dordogne village of St Pompon that is my holiday hide-away has only 350 voters, but is a perfect predictor of presidential elections. It voted heavily for Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, marginally for Nicolas Sarkozy against Ségolène Royale in 2007, and 59-41 for François Hollande against Sarkozy in 2012. So I’d love to tell you who’s going to win this time on the strength of the chatter at the Good Friday market. But the only national event the locals seemed interested in was a mountain bike championship just up the road. In gentle spring sunshine, the presidential contest seemed so far away that no one had yet bothered to paste the candidates’ posters on to the official boards outside the Mairie — and the only election material I could find was a flyer in the phone box for a Jean-Luc Mélenchon rally.
But that in itself was a useful indicator. The rally, in Toulouse on Easter Sunday, attracted more than 40,000 ardent supporters. ‘JLM’ is the veteran hard-left rabble–rouser — the French Hugo Chavez, Le Figaro called him, the French Fidel Castro according to others — who has emerged as the dark horse in tomorrow’s first-round vote. Having narrowly overtaken the scandal-dogged conservative François Fillon to poll third behind Emmanuel Macron (‘the French Tony Blair’) and far-right Marine Le Pen, some pundits think he could even come second. The head of the French employers’ federation, Pierre Gattaz, has said that a second-round run-off on 7 May between Mélenchon and Le Pen would be ‘a choice between economic disaster and economic chaos’, but polling is so close, and with so many voters still undecided, that it can’t be ruled out as a possibility.
And what then? JLM’s manifesto makes Labour’s John McDonnell look like the limpest Lib Dem. It talks of creating 3.5 million jobs through state spending on grands projets combined with a shorter working week, earlier retirement and protectionist measures against imports. As for entrepreneurship, he would ban redundancies that enhance corporate performance, give workers’ committees a vote de défiance against management on strategic decisions, and raise the minimum wage; plus he would tax the bosses till their pips squeak, at 100 per cent on earnings above €400,000.
It’s hard to imagine my pragmatic St Pompon neighbours voting for all that. But they might like his policies for an agriculture paysanne aimed at creating another 300,000 farming jobs. And his rhetoric about smashing ‘les dominations financières’ is tickling the hostility to Anglo-Saxon capitalism that lurks deep in the French psyche.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s ‘Any Other Business’, which appears in this week’s Spectator