Sunday, June 07, 2009

Today has been voting day in the European elections. We have the right to vote in local and European elections but not the national ones (despite us having the “right” to pay national taxes). On my way back from the bakery (one pain au chocolat, one baguette avec éclats de céréales and one fraisier (a delightful combination of light sponge, fresh strawberries and a sickly-sweet and gaudily colourful pâtissier’s goo, which can’t be good for you)) I stopped off at the school where we were to cast our votes. As you walk into the courtyard, the single classroom is ahead (where the local elections took place) and the canteen to the left. I walked towards the apparently lifeless classroom before a huge “OY” (or the French equivalent thereof) drew me into the canteen. There was Jean-Luc, the maire (part-time mayor and otherwise farmer) Éric, long-distance lorry driver and the “oy” shouter and a lady whom I’ve never met before: Salut, Salut, Bonjour Madame.

It was all very early in the day and I could see that there were only two votes cast before me in the transparent ballot box. I handed over my card and received a small brown envelope. As I headed for the single voting booth (there are only about 160 registered to vote in our commune, so you can see that everything is on a very modest scale) Jean-Luc asked me if I had everything I needed. Of course, I’d made my choice already. I pulled back the curtains, entered and found it surprisingly bare of pens and voting slips. I re-emerged: “désolée, je ne comprends pas ce que je dois faire". Apparently I had to pick up an A5 flyer of my chosen party from the table laid out in full view, then enter the booth, fold said paper and tuck it in the envelope. I scoured the table for my choice. Hooray for advanced European democracies: about half of the available choices had a notice saying that no forms had been received at the mairie. Fortunately, I found mine—a stack of at least 200 forms (I’m probably the only person in our commune who’ll vote for them) took one, and, somewhat theatrically, I have to admit, like some ham magician, I put my hands behind the curtain to put the flyer—which they’d all seen me take—in the anonymous envelope. Éric, ever the comedian, told me that I had to have my whole body in the booth. When I pointed out that he’d seen which slip I’d taken, he replied that it didn’t matter, as they’d take my vote out when I’d gone and change it anyway.

So whom did I vote for? The green vote has been split between the Green Party and the Independent Ecologists and some young eco-minded and politically aware French friends of mine had expressed their disquiet at what the Green Party and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were saying. This was reinforced by Sébastien (father of four) who wanted to vote Green but wouldn’t now. Another friend had spoken highly of the Nouveau Party Anticapitalist and it is they that got my vote. In my opinion, the current financial crisis is dwarfed by the ecological troubles we are storing up for ourselves and it is precisely this crisis which could provide the opportunity for us all to reflect on how capitalism works, or rather doesn’t, and see if we can’t find a fairer and more sustainable future. Whether the NPA are up to the job, I’m not sure we’ll find out as I don’t think they’ll get too many votes; I’ll report back with our communes voting breakdown and the overall result.

Olivier Besancenot, who has put his name to this party, is a right old lefty, perhaps even—shock horror—a communist. Now, as an alternative to capitalism, communism didn’t quite work out, and I think I know why! Friedrich Engels, one half of the authorial team of The Communist Manifesto, once wrote to his friend, Karl Marx (the other): “It is absolutely essential that you get out of boring Brussels for once and come to Paris, and I for my part have a great desire to go carousing with you… If I had an income of 5000 francs I would do nothing but work and amuse myself with women until I went to pieces. If there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn’t be worth living. But so long as there are grisettes [prostitutes], well and good!” Quelle hypocrisie, this is the same socialist who condemned the use of prostitutes as “the most tangible exploitation—one directly attacking the physical body—of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie”, but then regularly enjoyed their services. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that politicians had more integrity nowadays? Alas, British politicians have been found out, gorging themselves on outlandish expenses.

Will the NPA get voted in (unlikely). And if they do, will they work to make the world a better place or just race off to Paris to enjoy the pleasures of the ladies of the night, à la Engels? Don’t hold your breath.