Yesterday’s first round regional elections in France were predictable but nonetheless extremely depressing. The Front National has turned the map of France black (or indigo, to use the party colours used by le Monde).
Including our newly enlarged region Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées. Who would have thought the day would have arrived when the traditionally Socialist south west of France would have swung round like this – even allowing for the fact that rural socialism in France is a very conservative force?
Within our département of le Gard we have become used to the fact that the eastern end, round the Rhone, is the heart of Front National activity. But now it has seeped through to our area, the extreme western end of the département. Le Vigan, our local town, can at least hold its head a little higher: the Parti Socialist (PS) were just ahead of the Front National (FN) with 24.26% of votes against 23.91%. And the third candidate, Saurel (Citoyens du Midi) is a vague leftish small party, headed by Saurel, who is mayor of Montpellier.
In our commune, Bréau et Salagosse, of the 372 people on the electoral roll, 209 voted. The disgusting statistic is that 51 voted for the FN, including 14 in my local little village of Serres (Even allowing for the fact that some of these are second homers from Nimes or Marseilles, the fact is that some locals – people I know and am friendly with – voted FN). The PS came second, with 45 votes and les Républicains (the latest name change for Sarkozy’s party) third with 28 votes. Two minority parties, both on the left, Citoyens du Midi and Nouveau Monde en commun, also received significant votes.
There were eleven candidates in all and the votes received by these minority groups, plus the abstention rates are important, because the French system operates on a two round electoral system. The second round is on 13th December – next Sunday – and it is not clear how great will be the damage caused by the FN. In 2002 the French got a real scare when the second round presidential election was between Chirac and Le Pen (father). Many on the Left had a lot of angst before deciding to vote for Chirac in order to keep le Pen out. The situation is different this time; the FN have established a scarily effective local presence across the country and Marine Le Pen is a more wily politician than her father.
Whatever happens next Sunday, France has taken another lurch to the right, even here in the Cévennes, traditional home of dissident, independent minds.
As a British citizen I do not have the vote in regional elections: I may vote in local elections in France but in national elections in the UK. Two irritants. Why are regional elections regarded as national rather than local? They are after all a layer of government that has been devolved from the centre. The second is my status as a British voter.
Next year I will have been resident here for 15 years and under British law will no longer be entitled to vote in the UK – but as a British citizen will continue to have no entitlement to vote in national elections in France. In other words I will be in democratic terms, stateless. There is a movement by expatriates to get this anomaly redressed, but it looks like being very low on the political agenda and not before the crucial referendum on membership of the EU.