Monday, 20 February 2017

The French Presidential Hopeful You've Never Heard of


While we were away in Paris a tall ruggedly handsome man in his early 60s came to town and held a public meeting in Chaumussay. He was the Occitan (Basque) member of parliament Jean Lassalle and he was on the campaign trail. He is known in France for travelling round the country and meeting ordinary people, but he also needs to get the signatures of 500 mayors to validate his canditature for president. In addition he was touring to promote his new book, Un Berger à l'Elysée, which is basically his manifesto.

As well as being the deputy chairman on the conseil général and a deputé in the national parliament, he has been mayor of his birth place, Lourdios-Ichère, for decades. The small town, population 146, is near the border with Spain. He is also the head of the World Mountain People Association, a global network of people who live in the mountains of more than 70 countries. In 2013 he spent much of the year walking across France to get a feel for the mood of the population.

Jean Lassalle talking to Jean-Michel Chedozeau. Photo courtesy of J-M Chedozeau.

“Everywhere I went I witnessed a crisis in the standard of living, a loss of identity and the loss of a sense of a common destiny”. He found the situation equally bad in the cities and the countryside. Scepticism about globalisation, distrust of politicians and latent racism were common among people he spoke to, he said. [France24]
Back in 2006, when a Japanese manufacturer announced the closure of their factory in the Pyrenées he went on hunger strike in protest at the loss of jobs. The company was persuaded to stay and Lassalle lost 21 kilos in weight.

His genuinely 'honest broker' stance has led him to make what seem to be naive errors of judgement. Just recently his inability to adopt a slick political sidestep meant that he has stated in public that he cannot confirm that President Assad of Syria bombed his own people.  Even his supporters are bemused, and it will probably cost him the candidacy and possibly his political career. He is also anti marriage for all. Despite these lapses I get the impression he is widely liked by his parliamentary colleagues and certainly known for delivering amusing speeches which reduce the house to tears of laughter. He is considered hard-working and devoted to his country, if distinctly quixotic.

His manifesto, Un Berger à l'Elysée, is poetical and romantic in style. He wants to return to an idyllic world where there is no national debt, no globalisation, no French troops overseas, and European agreements are completely revised. He's not anti-Europe, but thinks considerable reform is necessary.

Jean Lassalle's manifesto. Photo courtesy of J-M Chedozeau.

Our friends Jean-Michel and Martine are interested in Lassalle and were delighted when he dropped in to their restaurant after the meeting (which they tell me was not well attended, partly because it wasn't widely advertised). It is clear Lassalle has the common touch and a certain charisma, but even in these interesting times, no one except the man himself takes his presidential campaign seriously. Many right-minded good hearted people would no doubt like to vote for him, but to do so is worse than wasting a vote. Sadly, voting for these sorts of minor candidates in the presidential election is tantamount to giving your vote to the far right because it splits the moderate vote. I think most of my friends are going to swallow hard and vote for the centrist Emmanuel Macron, despite his lack of party machine meaning that any government he forms will necessarily be a coalition, so who knows what we'll get.

8 comments:

  1. "partly because it wasn't widely advertised." DO the French EVER advertise what is on in any area. It used to annoy us tremendously when we missed an event cos we didn't know about it!!!

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    1. Ah yes, one of the great mysteries of French life -- how one finds out about the scheduling of events, especially if your local town hall website is rubbish and erratically updated at best.

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  2. Whoever is the final candidate, let's hope it is not Marine!

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    1. I think it's fairly obvious she will make it to the second round. Let's hope the general expectation that it will mobilise all the moderate voters to come out to vote against her turns out to be the case.

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  3. know the feeling...hope y'all do better than we did in the US

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    1. I don't think even a Marine win would be worse than what you've ended up with.

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  4. Well written analysis. He certainly appears to have the common touch, and is in tune with publci disquiet about issues such as globalisation ... and who amongst us is immune from "naive errors of judgement"?! I'd vote for him if I were French, cause I'm used to supporting candidates and a party that the mainstream constantly derides and denigrates as "unelectable and irrelevant" ... the Greens.

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    1. Voting for the Greens is fine if you are voting for the senate or something, but when it's a presidential election you have to vote strategically or it's worse than not voting at all.

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