The road blocks by the gilets jaunes continue. We have had them at the big roundabout near my local supermarket, Intermarché and, more importantly, at the other end of le Vigan, blocking the road to Ganges and thence Nimes and Montpellier. Apart from the inconvenience in finding detours to avoid the blocks, there have been some queues at the petrol pumps, in case supplies don’t get through.
I have mixed feelings about the Gilets Jaunes movement, mainly negative. Insofar as this is a protest against petrol prices, triggered by the announcement of a forthcoming 11% increase in fuel taxes, I have some sympathy: I would rather see governments raise revenues through indirect taxation – income tax. And high petrol prices hit low income groups especially hard in rural areas, given our dependence on cars.
It is, of course, increasingly becoming a more expression of frustration by people who are finding it hard to make ends meet and are turning their anger against Macron and his economic program. He is seen as a champion of the rich and urban. He feeds into people’s resentment with his complete absence of the common touch, with an arrogance that is turning away even those who actually hoped he would improve things (as opposed to those who voted En Marche in order to block the Front National).
But — the price of fuel is not very different in France from most other European countries. For example, a litre of 95 octane petrol, which I use, is currently €1.46 in France, €1.55 in Germany and €1.64 in Italy. Diesel is €1.46 in France, €1.45 in Germany and €1.56 in Italy. The change in fuel taxes is intended to wean the French off more polluting vehicles, by eliminating the advantage diesel cars have always had (am I relieved I sold mine last year!). I think part of the extra revenue is supposed to go on financial subsidies to people exchanging old polluting vehicles for modern ones.
More worrying is the way this huge, unstructured movement is morphing into a campaign to remove Macron. And in my view the main beneficiaries are the far right, the Rassemblement national – still known by its old name, the Front National. It is not clear how far they are behind the movement, but they are clearly enjoying it. And certainly there are disturbing populist and racist elements, for example, in the handing over of six migrants to the gendarmes.
Mélenchon and the more extreme left are also joining in. The socialists and trade unions are sitting, unhappily, on the sidelines. Whatever the position of the different parties, there is no doubting the general support of the public for the gilets jaunes. I have become aware of a growing number of cars displaying their gilets (compulsory kit, like emergency triangles, but usually kept in the boot) on the front dashboard.
Today I witnessed the gilets jaunes at firsthand. I was due to meet friends at the big annual at St Jean du Gard – Les Journées de l’Arbre, de la Plante et du Fruit. I made the mistake of taking the direct route to cover the 70km in about 90 minutes. Except it took longer, much longer, as I went through five gilets jaunes blockades.
The first, on the roundabout on leaving le Vigan, was the biggest and most organised. There must have been over a hundred people gathered there, all assembled in a jolly, party mood. As I approached the barricades, someone came to get my signature for their petition. When I said I was not in favour, I soon realised that this meant I would have to wait, while those who signed, often sounding their horns in support, were let through. Poppy and I just sat there and eventually, after about 15 minutes, I was let through.
I do like it when demonstrators show humour: I had to smile at the ridiculous roundabout after Ganges, where the metal figures of a flock of goats had had yellow gilets painted on them. On the return journey I noticed that somebody had climbed up the post to put a yellow gilet over the speed camera (which everybody knows about) on the road from Ganges to le Vigan.
The result of my lengthy journey (plus stomach muscles hurting from yesterday’s physio) meant I was not really fit enough to enjoy the foire. I did only a cursory tour of the foire, pausing to take a photo reflecting the colour of the day – the largest lemon I have ever seen:
After lunch (worthy rather than tasty) with my friend Dessa and her friends and neighbours, I returned home, initially taking some picturesque back roads to avoid at least some of the blockades.