Just when he thought he was safe(ish) to go back into …
FakeJobsGate? He’d toughed it out. It really seemed that way. A month after Le Canard Enchainé first wrote about Penelope and her jobs, politics was again becoming the subject that mattered.
Fillon had said clearly he was both Plan A and B. He’d declared ‘universal suffrage’ alone would decide his fate. No serious competitor had dared say out loud he should stand down. He had utterly blown away the Alastair Campbell (Non-)Rule on Media Frenzy Survival (10 days’ bad situation in the headlines and the person involved is toast) [Note for younger readers: A. Campbell was Tony Blair’s all-powerful (Press) Guru for 6 years.] He’d striven for press interviews to be about ‘Policy’… not ‘Police’ (by only answering questions put by Le Parisien on his new health programme).
Then, last Friday, Fillon was holding a packed meeting in the Paris suburbs. Shortly before speaking, Fillon read unwanted news on his phone. At 20:26 [deliberately timed just before he spoke said one of his advisers] the National Financial Public Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) announced that 3 judges would be named today to run a full judicial enquiry (in French) into “misappropriation of public funds, misuse of company assets, complicity in and concealment of these offences, influence-peddling and breach of the rules regarding declarations for transparency in public life”.
Some Fillon supporters rushed to say this was not entirely bad news. After all he might have been sent straight to trial. But now an enquiry is launched with absolutely no timescale. Their lawyers say they have no doubt the Fillons’ innocence will ‘at last be recognised’ by ‘independent judges’. Fillon can also hold to the fiction (if his fingers are crossed) that he’s broken no promise about standing down if charges are brought; this enquiry is into ‘unnamed person(s)’, thus allowing other name(s) to be added to a widening judicial enquiry, if necessary, later on.
Will this possibly lead to other candidate(s) appearing? Goar (Le Monde) says this is most unlikely. The Républicains will stick with their ‘damaged candidate’. While Fillon is sticking to subjects that will best shore up his base: law ‘n order/immigration.
As pointed out before, if Fillon were elected President before anything actually ‘happened’ he would benefit from Presidential immunity while in office (ie 5 years, or 10 if re-elected), as happened with both Chirac and Sarkozy. However, cases against members of Fillon’s family could proceed.
There was one very odd piece of high-flown prose in his speech last Friday. Referring to his judicial problems, Fillon said: ‘If our convictions are the cause of so much fury, if I am attacked so relentlessly, it is because I upset the spineless consensus that only likes the right when it walks in the shadows.’ Parse and analyse – and I promise you it’s not just lousy translating.
The good news is that the coming week will necessarily include some lightening of the heavy diet of Standard Hard Right Political Themes.
The Salon de l’Agriculture is starting. As befits a country where agriculture represents 1.7% of GDP and under 3% of the workforce, every Presidential aspirant will be paying a visit, and hoping for Politicians with Pigs pix all over the media.
[Students of French language should remember that it was at this jamboree in 2008 that President Sarkozy was working the crowd, when someone refused to shake his hand. The man said ‘Don’t touch me, you’ll make me dirty.’ The Presidential reply ‘Casse toi, pauv’ con‘ was delicately translated by the BBC as ‘Get lost you bloody idiot’. There should probably be something mildly 4-lettery in the translation. The difficulty is the paucity of French swearwords and the endless gradations of Brit ones. Those wishing to follow this up will easily find several entertaining pieces with analyses of the translation challenge.]
The Teflon FakeJobs candidate
Last week, Le Pen adopted the crudest method for dealing with police enquiries. She (ab)used her EuroMP-Immunity and refused to respond to a police summons. She said she was willing to appear after June’s legislative elections. Le Pen’s bodyguard and chief of staff (not beneficiaries of such immunity) are being questioned by French investigators. In addition, the Front National HQ was raided by the police and hard drives taken away.
2 separate investigations into fake jobs paid for out of EU funds (including those of both Le Pen’s bodyguard/chief of staff) are under way. The EU Fraud Office has demanded she (and other Front National MEPs) repay over €1 million. Because she’s refused to repay her €340,000 fine, her Euro-MP’s pay is being reduced each month.
Separately, a French investigating judge has been enquiring the same matters since last December. Le Pen and the Front National claim they are victims of justice being manipulated by politicians. Le Pen’s chief of staff is accused of having spent 740 minutes in the European Parliament (her official place of work as an EU Parliamentary assistant) between September 2014 and August 2015.
Simultaneously, the Front National is being pursued in relation to its financing of the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. 9 people (and the Front National itself) will be tried, charged with a series of fraud-related offences, including false accounting.
There are also enquiries by the PNF into serious under-declarations of wealth by both Le Pen and her father. Le Monde reports of their being suspected of having under-declared their wealth by 60%, with both offshore funds and tax fraud accusations swirling about.
Le Monde further reports that a senior key Front National figure, Chatillon (closely linked to Le Pen) is involved in several of the above issues. He was indicted last week. He’s suspected of having been involved in devising opaque financing schemes for the FN for all election campaigns (including regional elections) since 2012. Sunday’s Le Monde ran 2 pages on these multiplying scandals.
Le Monde also wrote an editorial (in French) headed ‘Marine le Pen against the rule of law’. ‘Like Chirac and Sarkozy before her’, they wrote, ‘she is a living advertisement for non-stick pans …charges are not brought against her … enquiries don’t result in any loss of confidence from her supporters… Worse, it is all [seen as] merely a political, judicial and media plot against their candidate.’ They conclude: ‘The self-proclaimed candidate of the people and denigrator of the ‘system’ does not hesitate to put herself above the law. Aspiring to become head of state, she challenges the rule of law. It is the legal system’s duty to unmask this sham’.
While, doubtless, none of her voters will be touched by this condemnation, maybe the judiciary will be encouraged to take speedier action. Or maybe the judiciary will rather follow, left-leaning Libération instead: ‘Two major Presidential candidates are threatened with being charged. Such unheard-of situation gives the judges an uncomfortable place in the campaign. Pursue their enquiries, at the risk of influencing the election. Or declare an informal truce and reinforce the feeling that the powerful get away with it.’
Yesterday, in Nantes, Le Pen described Macron as the candidate of ‘the system’ intended to keep the ‘caste’ in power. The ‘forces of money and media are at his service’, she said. She attacked magistrates and journalists alike. As a bonus she said Macron intended creating a ‘migration motorway between Algiers and Paris’. Remind you of anyone?
Out on the streets
A sunny Sunday (yesterday) and the militants were out in force. For some of us scribblers it seems that this campaign has been running a very long time. But for tract-distributors, it’s now a serious business. The First Round of voting is but 8 weeks away.
Our small town (best described as bo for bourgeois – very few bohemian values here) had 19 people distributing leaflets around Sunday’s market.
Fillon: 9 helpers (5 women 4 men, grouped around a not-entirely-appropriate poster applauding his Courage at telling The Truth):
Le Pen: 4 helpers (each male, in different parts of the market) handed this out:
“Sort Out France in 5 years. In the name of the people”.
As previously mentioned, note the detoxifying absence of references to either (i) the ‘Front National’ or (ii) ‘Le Pen’. The other side of the A5 leaflet is equally clean (other than for its toxic pledges). Le Pen identifies 6 things wrong with France:
- sort out the State by giving it back authority, providing resources for justice/police/ defence; guaranteeing renewed, effective public services throughout the country;
- sort out the country’s independence by liberating it from the EU’s economic, monetary, legislative and territorial supervision;
- sort out ‘our’ social/health system by refusing globalisation of services, saving social security and retirement, and fighting fraud;
- sort out ‘our’ model of society by stopping massive immigration, reaffirming French identity/values, secularism, gender equality, national pride;
- sort out ‘our’ economy by making work worth it, encouraging initiative, innovation and investment, while protecting the most vulnerable
- sort out ‘our’ country by reconquering territories lost to the Republic [sic], dismantling networks of delinquents, eradicating Islamic fundamentalism.
The Fillon leaflet:
Fillon’s A4 leaflet: 100% Law ‘n Order. Penal sanctions must be rapid and dissuasive. No more Leftish laxness. Firm judicial system, especially for repeat offenders. Immediate punishment for small daily offences that make our lives.a misery. More resources for Justice and Police. Better co-ordination between those involved in Law and Order. A real crime prevention policy. [Plus photos of 1. Law Courts, 2.spookily empty station platform and 3.police car with police officer imposingly standing by it. And might that just be Penelope above, just in front of Fillon, amid the crowd of 7 white males, getting no publicity ‘cos someone stuck a bleu-blanc-rouge Law ‘n Order slogan across her face?]
Macron: 6 helpers (3 women, 3 men – one of whom, a semi-globe-trotting businessman spent a long time chatting about his never having done anything like this in his entire life; he awoke one day in January and knew Something Had To Be Done to stop Le Pen) were handing this out:
Macron’s A4 leaflet has a pic of an open-neck-shirted Macron, with more diverse supporters than the others, plus a bigger “président” than Le Pen (Fillon makes no mention of the ‘P’ word). Inside, it’s policy-lite … that’s still awaited. The leaflet’s headlines are: Earn more with higher minimum wage. Lower class sizes for first 2 school years. 100% reimbursement for dental/eye/hearing treatment. €500 culture pass for 18 year-olds. 10,000 extra police. Help for self-employed. Investment in agriculture. 5000 extra police on Europe’s frontiers plus ‘Macron is the only sincerely pro-European candidate’. 2 inside photos: (i) Macron with a tie and (ii) a crowd at a rally, with 2 Euro-flags and 1 French flag being waved.
The most recent 3 polls give Le Pen 26 – 27% in the 1st round. Macron 23 – 25%. Fillon 19 – 20.5%. Hamon 13-14%. Melenchon 10-12%.
- Le Pen is steady with her high 1st round support (13 of February’s 20 polls give her 26% or more). Financial Times readers will ‘like’ today’s article (paywall) about the ‘online army’ fighting for Le Pen. She has 1.3 million Twitter followers and 1.2 million Facebook ‘likes’. Contrast that with 21st Century Media Man Macron and his less than 550,000 Twitter followers and 200,000 Facebook likes. A Le Pen team is producing anti-Macron online videos for the fachosphere (in French) of far right groups … and thence into mainstream social media.
- Macron has been boosted by Bayrou’s withdrawal.
- Fillon’s come-back has (for the moment?definitively?) stalled.
- Hamon went on main TV channel TF1 Sunday night to announce there was no deal with Melenchon. So he’ll fight to get all France’s Left voters, whether Macron or Melenchon supporters (the latter said ‘Europe’ was at the heart of their divergence). The vote utile argument will not work though with Hamon languishing sub-15%.
[If Melenchon’s vote holds up, this would mean that for the 1st time ever in the 10 Presidential Elections under the 5th Republic there would be 5 candidates with 10% or more of the vote in the 1st round.]
The last 2 polls this weekend have 2nd round votes showing Macron winning v Le Pen, either 61% – 39% or 58% – 42%, with more than half Macron voters now saying they’re sure of their choice. Has Bayrou’s endorsement really achieved all that? In my view, there’s still potential volatility. It will be interesting to see what effect there will be on this significant Macron breakthrough when he finally publishes his programme (Contract).