French citizens are not familiar with long electoral campaigns—the Fifth Republic’s first presidential contest, which was in 1965, lasted less than a month! This time, an entire year elapsed between the beginning of the primaries and the legislative elections, held in two stages a month after Emmanuel Macron won the presidency. The dominant feeling among the French people is weariness.
There is a strange dialectic at work in Western society, or so it seems to me, between political apathy on the one hand and political rage on the other. In the recent French elections, for example, the rate of abstentions was the highest ever seen, more than half in the second round of the election of the legislature. But in the first round of the presidential election, the candidates of the extreme Left and extreme Right, both of whom drew their supporters by appealing to subliminal rage, had more votes than the eventual winner, a man previously almost unknown.
In France the President cannot appoint a cabinet of his own choosing, if the legislature is controlled by a majority of the opposition party. Instead, cohabitation results, where the prime minister and most of the cabinet members reflect the views of the party with a legislative majority as much as they do the President. Thus, newly elected President Emmanuel Macron is running very hard to get a majority for his party, En Marche!, in the French General Assembly in the coming legislative elections.
The race for the presidency of France seems to have been scripted by our television news channels—which is bad news for democracy, whose natural ground is common sense. Every week gives us a mass of news, reversing that of the week before. This is by way of telling readers that what I write today could easily be wrong tomorrow. And as I’ve mentioned before on this site, a variety of outcomes are still possible, even as the first round of the election approaches in April.
Public debate before elections or referenda is seldom notable for its high intellectual level or honesty, and that which preceded the recent referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was no exception. On both sides names were called and nonsense spoken. Those for remaining in the Union implied that trade with Europe would cease if Britain left and even that war on the continent would be more likely. Those for leaving the Union played on fears of limitless immigration, though much of it (for example from Poland) has been good and even necessary for the country, and the inability or unwillingness of the British public administration to control the kind of immigration that is most feared, for example from Moslem countries, has nothing to do with Britain’s membership of the Union.