30 MAY 1969, Page 5

The first round


Paris—Mr Ronald Searle has impressed upon the consciousness of millions of his fellow- countrymen, and not a few of us on .this side of the Channel as well, the portrait of a certain type of 'average Frenchman.' He is a slightly ridiculous, yet at the same time rather endear- ing, individual, beret on head and grasping a bottle of red wine. It is precisely this inoffensive family man who, this weekend and then in the final round of the election a fortnight later, is going to decide the identity of the next French President. The France which the candidates are desperately trying to evoke in their speeches is his France.

For all the presidential candidates are well aware that the rejection of General de Gaulle's referendum at the end of April was not the achievement of the rebellious students, or of the dissatisfied trades unions, or of the ambi- tions of 'big business.' They know that it re- flected rather a profound desire for a quiet life: a sort of revenge perpetrated by French- men on their mother country, the revenge of everyday contentment on 'the nation's destiny.' What the sociologists are too readily inclined to dismiss as the /umpenpro/etariat has redis- covered its coat of arms. The ..politicians now refer to it respectfully as 'the floating vote,' and try desperately tosestablish what it wants.

The opinion polls provide one answer. The floating voter, it seems,- is worried, in descend- ing order of importance, about his standard of living, his housing, and the education of his children. He thinks the nuclear deterrent comes very expensive, and he is keen on the construc- tion of a united Europe. From this it would be easy to deduce that this key personality wants, quite simply, a complete break with Gaullism. But this is an oversimplification. For the Frenchman who wants, above all things, a quiet life, naturally wants to avoid a fight to the finish between Gaullists and anti-Gaullists.

Both M Alain Poher and M Georges Pompi- dou, the front-runners in the election campaign, are well aware of this sentiment. That is why they are fighting with kid gloves. M Poher speaks of 'the need for change,' but also of ,unity': M Pompidou lays the emphasis on continuity,' while at the same time stressing the need for 'open-mindedness.' The result is that the average Frenchman is delighted with these two worthy gentlemen who take such pains to model themselves in his image. Last aeekend he was able to go off with an easy

conscience to kill himself on the motorways in celebration of the Whitsun holiday.

Truth to tell, the election campaign has not even started yet—for the simple reason that everyone knows there is a second round to come. The first round this Sunday really fulfils the purpose of the American 'primary': it identi- fies the two candidates 'most likely to succeed' by reason of their popular appeal. Yet on this occasion the public opinion polls have already performed the function in advance. Before the official campaign began everybody knew who the two candidates for the run-off on 15 June would be. So the first round has become nothing more than a light-hearted diversion which en- ables everyone who wishes to do so to express the purity of his ideological principles by voting for a candidate whom he would be horri- fied to see installed at the Elysee Palace. Thus it has been shown that barely 15 per cent of the electorate wants to see a left-wing President: yet at least 30 per cent have every apparent intention of voting for one on Sunday.

Of these left-wing*rs there are four. Or rather two plus two. The septuagenarian Communist candidate, M Jacques Duclos, is challenged by twenty-seven year old M Alain Krivine, a trot- skyite who claims to 'incarnate the hopes of May 1968.' Similarly, the official anti-Communist left-wing candidate, M Gaston Defferre, the amiable Mayor of Marseilles, is challenged by thirty-eight year old Michel Rochard, champion of the pure milk of socialist dogma. Each of the four has his own personal style. M Duclos is hail-fellow-well-met: the Resistance hero who has been a member of the National Assembly for practically all his working life. He is jolly and comfortable-looking, and when he asks, with a trace of a warm southern accent, `Do I look as if I am going to eat you?' the answer can only be 'no.' One would be happy to entrust M Duclos with the custody, if not of the nation, then of one's wife and child.

M Krivine, for his part, is out to shock. Yet unfortunately perhaps for him he is a schoolmaster by trade, and he cannot avoid looking wise. So much so that one is tempted to ask whether he has fully considered the implications of his desired strategy of offering himself as a candidate with the sole objective of obtaining a free gift of prime television time for his propaganda. If you want a platform from which to attack the consumer society, are you not half way to having your challenge packaged for palatable consumption?

M Defferre has the backing of M Mendes- France. They always make their appearances side by side, prospective President and prospec- tive Prime Minister. Yet the backing of M :Mendes-France is so weighty. and his per- sonality so impressive, that quite a number of electors have begun to ask themselves whether it would not be M Mendes-France who governed, and M Defferre who reigned, if by some unimagined hazard the tandem won.

As for M Michel Rocard, the principal pur- pose of his campaign seems to be to make every- one forget that as a former inspecteur des finances he has spent his working life as a civil servant. Yet he does not succeed. And so much the better for him. For however hard he tries to present an economic analysis of the extreme left, the realism bred of years of experience of the way the economy works keeps breaking through. 'In a few years' time he'll calm down, and Then he'll be a second Mendes-France: thus the verdict often heard on M Rocard.

In short it is all good clean fun. The serious business begins on Monday next. And the only burning question today is whether, when the real campaign gets under way, Messrs Poher and Pompidou will still be able to keep up the shadow-boxing.

I doubt it. For what interest has M Pompidou in allowing people to assume that the Gaullist parliamentary majority will be able to colla- borate with a government picked by M Poher? I can't help feeling ttiat, as soon as the first round is out of the way, de Gaulle's former Prime Minister will have to challenge the in- terim President head on, under the slogan 'a vote for Poher is a vote for instability.' If so. it will all boil down to this: what is the floating voter to make of the cohesion of the Gaullist party? If he reckons the party will hold to- gether, then he would be well advised to vote for M Pompidou and trust him to broaden the administration by bringing irk, some representa- tives of the centre, If, on the contrary, he reckons that the Gaullists will fall apart in ad- versity, then he can vote for M Poher with an easy mind. For in that case M Poher should have no difficulty in gaining the support of a parliamentary majority excluding only Com- munists and intransigent Gaullists.

Thus notwithstanding the similarity between the programmes of M Poher and M Pompidou, two fundamentally different conceptions of the nation's political future are in conflict. The one assumes by implication that the existence of a strong neo-Gaullist party will in time force the left to get together, to produce a classical two- party political system; the other that France will now revert to the old pattern of oscillations between government coalitions of centre-right and centre-left.

Which is only another way of putting what is really the question which dominates the whole campaign : is France today a sufficiently stable society to ensure that a two-party system does not lead inevitably to total polarisation and irre- concilable conflict?