What progressives can learn from France's straight-talking communists

2 April 2022

9:58 PM

2 April 2022

9:58 PM

The latest poll has France’s socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo on 1.5 per cent. This is the party that won the presidential election a decade ago. Britain’s Labour party should look at the French socialists and be very afraid. This is what happens when a political party turns its back on its core electorate and instead panders to pet progressive policies, such as whether a woman can have a penis.

Things have become so bad for Hidalgo that she now trails Fabien Roussel of the French Communist party. Named in honour of Colonel Fabien, a communist hero of the resistance in the second world war, Roussel caused a kerfuffle in January when he declared in an interview that ‘good wine, good meat, good cheese, for me this is French gastronomy’.

For millions of other French, too, Monsieur Roussel. But not the joyless fanatics, mainly middle-class metropolitan types who this century have seized control of the British and French left. They accused Roussel of trivialising alcoholism, promoting meat-eating and overlooking Muslims.

There is a reason why Roussel, polling at 4 per cent, is ahead of Hidalgo in the polls, and only just behind the Green candidate, Yannick Jadot, who had high hopes of making an impression in the presidential election. It’s because Roussel speaks openly and not in an echo chamber.

That explains why Jadot is not doing as well as the Greens expected. Though he is among the more reasonable and open-minded environmentalists, he is undoubtedly suffering from the antics of many within his party, like the Lyon mayor who last year banned meat from school canteens or the mayor of Bordeaux who sees Christmas trees as a threat to society. Voters gave the Greens a chance in the municipal elections of 2020. They now realise their mistake. ‘We don’t understand it,’ said one of Jadot’s campaign team last week. ‘We have a good candidate, serious, honest, solid, with a coherent programme. But it’s not working.’

Roussel, on the other hand, has developed a knack for winding up the woke. Earlier this year he described Islamism ‘as a fascism’ and said France must not give an inch in the battle to eradicate the ideology. He has also spoken out against anti-police sentiment, popular among some on the left, and spoken up for the idea of free speech as championed by Charlie Hebdo. These declarations have made him a figure of hate for many progressives. There is also undoubtedly an element of snobbery to their disdain; most French progressives, like their British counterparts, consider themselves sophisticated city dwellers; Roussel is from the northern industrial town of Béthune and that, combined with his meat-eating, makes him beyond the pale.

But he’s more popular than Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris since 2014. In that time she has waged war against cars, forcing them out of the city and welcoming thousands of bicycles and electric scooters, the bane of many people’s lives. It’s not just that. Paris has become dirty, decrepit and dangerous, overrun with rats and drug dealers. One of the most popular social media memes of 2021 was #saccageparis (trashed Paris) where users uploaded photos of their city to show just how ailing it was.

Hidalgo’s poll rating is likely to drop even further in the coming days as Parisians feel the effect of another progressive policy. As of this week, heated terraces are banned in the French capital, as Paris continues to shift to a low-carbon economy. Admittedly, this is not Hidalgo’s doing, it is a government initiative announced by ecology minister Barbara Pompili in the summer of 2020. ‘What’s at stake is ending ecologically aberrant practices that lead to totally unjustified energy consumption,’ declared Pompili, a member of the Greens until she deserted to Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

Heated terraces have been popular in France since indoor smoking was prohibited in 2008, but over the years they have come to upset the likes of Pompili. It’s claimed that heating a café terrace for a day is equivalent to driving 350km in a car, not that many in France can afford to drive such a distance these days given the soaring price of petrol.

The progressives are happy to see the back of heaters but café owners and restauranteurs are fuming. ‘It’s always us, the small businesses, who pay the bill for others,’ complained Stéphane Malet, who runs a restaurant in the capital. ‘There are thousands of private jets in the air every day, just for a few, they have more means than us to make an effort, to take a train or drive an electric car.’ One of those with a passion for private jets, according to the French media, is Prime Minister Jean Castex despite regularly flaunting his green credentials.

The heating ban comes into effect on the day the weather in Paris takes a severe turn for the worse. It was 22 degrees in the capital at the start of the week but snow hit the city by the end of the week. The only comfort for Parisians as they sit on the café terraces is that the presidential ambitions of the country’s progressives have turned just as cold.

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