Entertainment for the People
DON COOK writes from Paris :
One is inclined to wonder what the result of this French presidential election would be if Charles de Gaulle were to go on the air and announce openly and candidly to the French people his programme for France for the next seven years: to withdraw from NATO by the time the alliance comes to the end of its first twenty-year span in 1969; to end France's special 'status of forces' agree- ment with the United States and force the removal of American supply bases and military units from France; to force either the disbandment of the NATO military command structure, or the removal of NATO headquarters from French soil; to end military integration in Europe for everybody but West Germany; to seek greater understanding with the Soviet Union against any revival of 'the German menace'; to turn back the clock on European economic integration and bring the development of the European Common Market to a standstill; to block any future enlargement of member- ship of the Common Market and render ineffec- tive any efforts at economic agreement between the EEC and EFTA; to continue to thwart the GATT negotiations in Geneva for a new round of world-wide tariff cuts; to go on boycotting efforts by the United Nations to reach agreement on disarmament. nuclear testing and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; to continue to show understanding, patience and forbearance for Communist China's expan- sionist military pressures in South East Asia.
It's quite a programme—and in fact it is no more than a sharp distillation of what the General himself has been saying in recent months in. conversations with diplomats and instructions to his ministers. But it is not, of course, a pro- gramme which de Gaulle will ever present to the French people. After all, he never told the French people in 1958 that he intended to end the Algerian war by giving Algeria its independence. If he 'had, the political risk would have been enormous. Why should he take a chance with the voters by declaring his policies today?
Instead, the balloting on December 5 is to be simply a referendum or a plebiscite—'our or `non'—on de Gaulle's rule. The General has asked the French people for a vote of confidence. though he scarcely reciprocates by taking the people into his confidence. It is an election in a vacuum. Efforts by de Gaulle's opponents to create genuine public debate on great issues have been earnest if not particularly noteworthy, but they are merely debating with the wall around the Elysee Palace.
• In the absence of any declaration of national policy from the leading candidate, the campaign has bordered on 'the inane and farcical. For a brief period there was an inspired flap about alleged efforts by the American State Department to 'make trouble' for General de Gaulle by deliberately leaking what de Gaulle has been saying in diplomatic privacy. Birth 'control for a time loomed more important than anything else. Then there was the outcry over 'television censorship' and the fact that the candidates would all have to tape-record their broadcasts in ad- vance so that a control commission could - ensure 'prudence' in the development of 'polemi- cal argument.'
The last-minute emergence of a candidate named Marcel Barbu has served to reduce this dismal affair to something of a charade. Barbu
is a former deputy in the National Assembly
who makes watch-cases. He has no identifiable politics, but he had 10,000 francs for a filing fee and one hundred friends to sign his application to be placed on the ballot—and for this he gets
t '1) two hours of free national television time allotted to all candidates. He used his first seven minutes to wander on about the housing problem in France and tell the voters: 'Don't laugh. I have it from an absolutely reliable source that the interior minister wanted to do away with me.'
Sadly, it is not a laughing matter. De Gaulle has let it be known that he expects to make only one television appeal to the electorate, and in the meantime he has grandly instructed the RTF to use the remainder of his allotted two hours 'for programmes of entertainment for the people.'
What more is there to be said?