Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Turning the tide ?

If my post of May 1st sounded a little pessimistic about a Macron victory on May 7 (see: “An election to lose”) I am feeling reassured today. Contrary to last week, when Macron made a faltering start and was caught off guard by Le Pen stealing the show at the Whirlpool plant in Amiens, Le Pen has herself faltered this week and was made to look very silly today.

It is only natural that just a few days before voters go to the polls to choose their President for the next five years, one of her major election pledges, to abandon the Euro and restore the Franc, would come under closer scrutiny. And Le Pen has clearly buckled under the pressure. Asked last night on TV how her latest wheeze of keeping the Euro “for large companies” and restoring the Franc for the man and woman in the street (thus making the Euro a common currency but no longer the single currency) would work in practice, she dodged and weaved and blustered but was incapable of giving a clear answer. It’s not difficult to understand why. Le Pen’s aim is devaluation to give French companies a competitive advantage. But devaluation is a dirty word and she has stopped short of actually using it.  Reputable economists have no such qualms and the airwaves have been buzzing today with dire predictions of huge uncertainty on financial markets, French Euro-denominated debt being dumped and the devalued Franc in peoples’ pockets buying less, especially of imported products that French consumers are so keen on. She has no clear answer to these points because there isn’t one that would not make people nervous. Macron will no doubt try to drive her into a corner on this issue in the debate on Wednesday night.

It has also become clear today that a few paragraphs of her speech to a large hall of supporters two days ago were quite simply lifted from a speech made by François Fillon a few weeks ago. The TV news this evening ran a split screen of Fillon and Le Pen speaking exactly the same words almost in synch. Embarrassed spin-doctors could think of nothing better to say than she had done this deliberately as a kind of subliminal ploy to attract Fillon’s voters. Nobody was convinced.

Macron seems to have been in better form in the last day or two, with a good speech last night to a large crowd of supporters. Today he has also received multiple endorsements from celebrities of all sorts including the highly respected former French soccer star, Zinedine Zidane.

To cap it all, the latest polls, also aired on TV this evening, predict a Macron victory by 60% to 40 %.

All this being said it would be unwise to jump to conclusions and consider the battle already won. The 7 million Mélenchon voters, a representative sample of whom has been consulted over the last few days, are evenly split three ways between abstention, spoiling their ballot papers or voting Macron. There is still no clear picture of what Fillon’s 7.3 million voters will do. Some, nobody knows how many, will undoubtedly vote le Pen and some will abstain. In a speech to his parliamentary party this evening, apart from appealing to voters not to cast France into the unknown, Fillon did not repeat his endorsement of Macron and seemed to be less concerned about next Sunday’s vote and more about his party’s showing it the parliamentary elections in June. That can be no doubt that 7.3 million votes looking for a home can make a big impact one way or another.

I still tend to think pollsters do not have all the answers and that the result will be closer than 60% to 40%. I would love to be wrong. All the signs seem to be pointing to a Macron victory, but we won’t know until Sunday evening if the tide has really started to turn or not.

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