It was a feisty Francois Fillon that arrived in the Ardennes, on his first trip out of Paris since the new revelations about his wife’s wages appeared in the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine a week ago.
At a meeting in Charleville-Mézières on Thursday he fired on all cylinders. The accusations were that it was all a left-wing plot to rob him and the right of victory. Words like “institutional coup” was used. “The power”, “the left”, and the “media climate” were all to blame for it. It all sounded very dramatic and exciting.
The problem is, of course, that France doesn’t believe any of that. A poll by the company Elabe, shows that 76 per cent of French voters doubt he’s telling the truth. His general poll numbers are thus slipping against the other two front-runners, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. In a poll published by the magazine Les Echos, Fillon had slipped to third place. If those numbers were to hold, his presidential journey would end with the conclusion of the first round.
Unlike the USA, presidential races in France are filled with many candidates, from the far left like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to the left’s Benoit Hamon, the centrist Emmanuel Macron. There are Greens, and there are tiny parties, and they all hope to survive the first round. Or they want to show enough strength to enter into political bargains with the bigger parties.
Benoit Hamon is said to want to deal with Mélenchon, for instance. Since Hamon polls at 15 per cent, the ten per cent who support Melenchon would put Hamon neck-and-neck with Le Pen and Macron. Of course, Melenchon would extract a price for ending his campaign. A bargain.
The key is the first round elections, where all the myriad of candidates are eliminated so that only two remain, and they go on to the second round. It is widely expected that Marine Le Pen will make it to the second round, and that makes it imperative for either Fillon Macron or Hamon to join her. Whoever makes it to the second round is almost guaranteed to become he President of the Republic.
That’s why Francois Fillon wants to turn the gaze everywhere else than to the affair, by accusing other forces of malicious doings. If he can succeed where Nicholas Sarkozy failed in 2012, and focus France’s ire at the media, or the elites, or the left, then half the battle will be won.
But France is angry, like many other countries, and seems to brook no lip from the established parties. The Socialist party is, after Francois Hollande’s catastrophic reign, a broken shell of infighting. Les Republicains, which Fillon represents, already had sleaze and corruption problems last time with Sarkozy.
That’s why the polls appear to favour the inexperienced outsider Macron, and the far-right fascistic Marine Le Pen. I’ve said it before, if Macron makes it to the second round, he’ll win.
By now, that’s how I think it will go. Unless Macron’s inexperience trips him up, there’s little to stop him. And when French voters are polled with hypothetical scenarios, Macron wins by 65-35 against Le Pen.
However, while we may look forward to the most boring electoral landslide ever for whoever ends up running against Le Pen, that doesn’t mean there won’t be smoldering ruins left in its wake. Those are the ruins of the post-war balance between the socialist and the conservative hegemony of French politics.
This may be the last election Les Republicains and the Socialist party swap places when the French electorate tire of one side or the other.