Despite yet another shocking terrorist atrocity in France, Marine Le Pen has little chance of winning the French presidency, even if she comes top in the first round of elections this Sunday.
Barring enormous polling error, she will lose to whichever candidate she faces in the run-off: Milibandesque elite darling Emmanuel Macron, extreme left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon, even scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon, and each could plausibly make it through to the head-to-head in May.
The real risks lie elsewhere. First is the disaster scenario of a showdown between Le Pen and Melenchon, a Sophie’s choice for French electors that will ensure France’s next President is some degree of socialist, eurosceptic and Russophile. For an indication of Melenchon’s economic lunacy, the leftist wants a 90 per cent tax on salaries over €400,000 and to cut the 35 hour working week to just 32 hours. Even if he is unable to reform France’s relationship with the EU as he wishes, or convince voters to back Frexit in a referendum, markets will bathe in red, as one of the central cogs of EU integration grinds into reverse.
Second, despite elite enthusiasm for Macron, all the signs are that he will be a timid reformist, repeating enough Europhile pieties to reassure the markets that France isn’t about to crash out of the EU, but unwilling (or unable, given that he lacks a party machine) to push through the serious reform the country needs.
He will cut corporation tax a bit, sell down the French government’s stake in a few companies, but will keep the pension age at an absurd 62. If, for all the hype, Macron runs a continuity Hollande government, as seems likely, don’t be surprised if festering disillusionment boosts Le Pen even further next time.
Third, the one candidate with a programme that could go some way towards curing the French disease of excessive government intervention and unemployment, Fillon, would surely now lack the political capital to force through his plans for deregulation and public spending cuts, dogged as he is by a scandal over giving taxpayer money to his family for work it is unclear they performed. What a shame.
Whatever happens – and almost anything could, given that all four are polling within the margin of error – there are no good results from this election. Behind this mess is an unfortunate truth: France as a country seems unwilling to look itself in the mirror and confront the multiple problems that ail it.