Observations of an Expat: Mind The Gap

February 17, 2017 OPINION/NEWS

AP photo



Tom Arms

Mind the Gap. Three very familiar monosyllabic words for anyone who has travelled on the London Underground. The taped announcement is a warning to beware of the potentially dangerous space between the railway carriages and the platform. But it has a political meaning too.

Any political novice will also tell you to mind the gap. Look for the space that isn’t being filled by the other parties and plug it—fast.

Well, at the moment there is a yawning chasm as the traditional parties race to head off threats from the right and left, leaving a vacuum in the centre—the traditional winning ground.

But have the divisions that currently afflict Western societies become so acute that the centre ground is now politically unviable? We will find out—or at least be presented with a good indication— at the end of April and then again in May.

That is when the French elect their president. And it is looking increasingly as if the battle will be between the far right Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party and Emmanuel Macron’s  newly-formed En Marche (English translation: Forward).

A few weeks ago the political landscape looked completely different. The two top contenders were Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon. Macron and the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon were also-rans.

Then along came Fillon-gate. It was revealed that the Republican presidential candidate paid his wife nearly a million Euros out of government money for work she never did. The revelations appear to have been a fatal blow to the presidential aspirations of Fillon and a fibulator-type boost to the hopes of Macron who overnight leapt to the number two slot in the opinion polls.


Photo – Philippe Wojazer/Reuters


Macron has several things in common with Donald Trump. He is a businessman. He has never held elected office. His rise to power has been meteoric – private sector to economic adviser to minister of the economy in two years.

But that is where the comparison ends. Macron is young – 39. His wife is beautiful but 24 years older than him. Most of all, Emmanuel Macron is a straight down the middle, pro-Europe, Free market, old fashioned middle of the road political, cultural and economic centrist liberal. When he speaks it is with the dispassionate fact-filled voice of common sense rather than the tub-thumping populist post-truth rhetoric that has come to dominate Western politics.

French voters had hoped that Francois Fillon would fill that role. But he moved the Republican Party to the right to counter the threat of anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. Then he was caught with his hand in the till.

Socialist Benoit Hamon is campaigning on an unelectable far-left platform. At a time when the French economy is struggling to stay afloat the former education minister proposes to reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours, tax companies using robots and wants to introduce a universal basic income. Hamon’s policies hitched to the disastrous administration of Socialist President Francois Hollande means it is unlikely that the socialists will do better than a poor fourth place.

Looming over the French political scene is Marine Le Pen. The darling of the far-right is currently holding the number one spot—27 percent according to a Valentine’s Day poll.

But France has a two-round presidential polling system. Anyone can put their name on the ballot paper in the first round on 23rd April. And if any of the candidates achieve the highly unlikely goal of 51 percent of the electorate then they become president. If no one does—and no one ever has—then the top two candidates move to the second round on May 7th and the winner of that round moves into the Elysee Palace.

The National Front is a solid vote of determined right-wing activists, but so far they have repeatedly failed to move beyond a third of the electorate.

At the moment, opinion polls say that Macron would win 69 percent of the vote in round two run-off between Len Pen and himself. If he does, then Emmanuel Macron could set Europe back on a liberal centrist path.









Tom Arms is editor of the free foreign affairs newsletter and podcast LookAheadnews.com.

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LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 20 February 2017:








Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email: [email protected].


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