Correction: John Lloyd’s article about the Gilets Jaunes discussed in last month Froggy appeared in the Irish Independent not the Irish Times as stated mistakenly.
At the 2014 European elections Marine Le Pen got the most votes. Macron is keen to avoid a repeat of this result, and he is busy whipping up a degree of interest in the elections, enough to get at least some people to turn out. Macron invited her to the Elysée Palace (as well as Mélenchon), ostensibly to work out solutions to the Gilets Jaunes situation. Marine Le Pen is invited again on radio and television to give her opinion on this that and the other.
The elections will take place Sunday 26 May. Parties present lists of 79 candidates for the 79 seats France has in the European Parliament, 5 more than in 2014 because France has been given 5 of Britain’s seats. There are no constituencies for this election: there are whole France party lists, and the vote is by Proportional Representation.
The lists must contain as many women as men, the names alternating, so that as many women as men are elected, since those at the top of the list will sit in Parliament. The laborious work of reconstituting parties is taking place now after the last presidential election debacle. The Socialists do not have a leader for their list. They are in disarray, their historical seat in Paris has been sold; one of their leading lights, Benoit Hamon, has left and created a rival groupuscule.
The Republicans (Sarkozy’s and Fillon’s outfit) is also trying to find someone to head their list. The ex FN is in deep trouble financially and struggling to make up a list. They have lost a third of their premises throughout France, and a large proportion of members. Their list is headed by an unknown, Jordan Bardella.
Melenchon’s party (FI, la France Insoumise) has got a list, click on https://lafranceinsoumise.fr/actualites/elections-europeennes/les-candidat⋅e⋅s-aux-elections-europeennes/ to see a list as it should be, one woman, one man and where the spelling is right on, that is, feminine and masculine forms in the same word—not ‘candidats’ and ‘candidates’, but ‘candidat.e.s’. This makes reading and writing awkward and difficult, but principles come first.
The CP has a new leader, Ian Brossat, at the moment deputy to the Mayor of Paris; they are also financially straitened; they are keeping their historical seat in central Paris thanks to letting out most of it. They are wondering whether to ally with others, in order not to be crippled by costs. Macron’s party is still standing, but they are not announcing their head of list until the last minute.
The media are pretending this is interesting, citing polls with enthusiasm: Marine Le Pen is second to Macron in voting intentions! Le Monde joins in with a headline to make you believe the European Parliament actually does something relevant: “European Parliament condemns excessive use of force against demonstrators in France”. The article contradicts the headline; the EU Parliament, after studying police behaviour during the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations, ‘recommended that police use force proportionally’.
The Gilets Jaunes movement is continuing: they have not missed a Saturday yet since the 17th November. In their effort to stop them, the government is redoubling the deployment of the anti-Semitism smear against them. All interviews with them bring out comments about the cost of living, the difficulty in making ends meet, the lack of public services where they live; opposition to Macron, and TV stations, and a desire for tax justice. That is as far as they will go in general politics. They are a million miles from anti-Semitism; it is not something that is part of their world.
That doesn’t stop the government from trying to smear them with that particular insult, using anti-Semitic incidents that occurred ‘since the start of the GJ movement’ such as graffiti on letter boxes, and the verbal attack on a prominent Jewish philosopher near his house ‘on the fringes of a GJ demonstration’ by people wearing yellow vests. The Times of London in its report on this incident (21.2.19) said that he was called ‘a dirty Jew”. The philosopher himself has stated he did not hear that particular insult.
This tactic could cause resentment, because it is totally unfair. The GJ movement is striking on the contrary by its absence of meanness: the targets of their anger are those above, not those below like people on benefit or immigrants. It is also dangerous because it mixes together false accusations and true accusations. False accusations used as weapons to discredit a whole movement will weaken the case against real acts of anti-Semitism.
Some GJ want to take part in the European elections. The GJ Ingrid Levavasseur headed a list for the European elections, called ‘Rally of Citizen Initiative’ (RIC); the name comes from the GJ demand for a Referendum of Citizen Initiative (RIC). She is a 31 year old care assistant, divorced with two children, from a rural background, earning 1250 euros a month. She has a high media profile. She left the list saying it had been infiltrated and no longer has the same objectives.
Some GJ are against the idea of standing for the European elections; they point out that such a list would take votes away from FI and the ex FN, making life easy for Macron’s party. Other campaigners for the RIC list have left and other GJ have created other movements with corresponding lists.
The other consideration is finance for the campaign, leaflets, posters etc. It is estimated that a national campaign costs 700,000 euros. The RIC intended to rely on gifts, since crowd funding, which they had envisaged, is illegal. They would have to create their own site for collecting gifts, apparently a costly enterprise.
The Agricultural Show
This is the time of year for the Salon de l’Agriculture. The concentration of agriculture into larger and larger farms is continuing rapidly. Smaller farmers are being squeezed out, their costs compared to their output do not allow them to carry on. The 2018 national debate on Agriculture and Food brought this out clearly, since one of the aims was to slow down this process by improving small farmers’ income. The debate came to nothing in terms of legislation. All this has taken the shine from the Salon.
No wonder parties have lost influence: they, and the government, are helpless when it comes to the vital question of preserving employment in industry. There has been a ‘blizzard’ a ‘cascade’ of factory closures this year already, according to Le Monde. The minister of Industry and Finance is each time involved in trying, unsuccessfully, to keep sites open.
Most new employment takes place on short term contracts. When unemployment is high and jobs not assured in the long term, owning a house or flat becomes a source of stability. But it is also a source of stress because it won’t be near the place of work, and commuting is stressful. On top of that, concentration of schools, hospitals and public administration into bigger units depletes small towns and causes yet more necessity for travel. This is without mentioning the disappearance of small shops, replaced by out of town hypermarkets.
As well as concentration, there is digitalisation of services: everything is done on line. This creates deserts. People becomes isolated. It is this situation that caused the Gilets Jaunes movement. A large part of its success came about because it gave an occasion for socialising. But no wonder they can’t formulate a programme! A better distribution of the wealth created by economic concentration, as demanded by the GJ, would be a start. No one has a programme that would deal with the problems thrown up by the new social and economic organisation of society.
The magazine Marianne has editorials describing the Gilets Jaunes as ‘full of hate’ and ‘disgustingly vulgar’. But it hosts a variety of opinions. An interesting journalist, Hadrien Mathoux, wrote of the necessity of not using anti-semitism as a means to silence opposition. He points out that when the minister for European Affairs for example associates anti-europeans with Nazis and their treatment of Jews, she is forcing all Jews, by implication, to be on the side of the European Union.
In another article Mathoux explains that radio and television have now excluded from the airwaves points of view critical of the EU, of the neo-liberal economic model, of immigration and of the ‘progressist’ social questions (identity politics). The views of three quarters of the population are therefore not expressed. The GJ protested before the headquarters of TV and Radio stations, and the media themselves say that 75% of the population do not trust them, without saying why of course.
The GJ were also protesting against the way their movement is portrayed. An example is the tweet by one of the most famous radio journalist, JM Aphatie, claiming one the best known GJ, Eric Drouet, ‘had voted Marine Le Pen in both rounds of the presidential election. This statement was taken up by the rest of the media and some politicians, before Drouet denied it emphatically. Statements by him in other contexts show that he would not consider such a vote.
Mathoux then makes a list of internet sites with a large following that provide left oriented news programmes, and a list of right wing ones. His opinion is that all this is a source of useful information and debate, and not only a reinforcement of prejudice, as is often said. Froggy will report back on these sites next month.