A report in Le Monde today reveals that none other than good old Jose Bove is giving serious consideration to standing as a candidate. For those of you who aren't sure who Bove is, you will probably have heard of him as the farmer who dismantled a branch of McDonald's in 1995 as a protest against poor food and all that it entails. In France, absolutely anyone can stand in the first round of the presidential elections, and so it's quite usual to have a selection of two or three independent candidates with not a hope of making it through to the second round. But Bove's possible candidacy could cause an extraordinary political contest in 2007 because of the following fact: he would actually have a very good chance of winning.
If the old alterglobalisation warrior made it to the second round - and all that is needed for that to happen is that he should be one of the candidates with the two largest shares of the vote in the first round - he would more than likely face the current darling of the French right, the current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. This would be an incredible result, it would be the most polarised political confrontation that anyone can remember. This eventuality is best illustrated by the following picture, highlighting the uncanny resemblance of Sarkozy and Bove to two universally known French comic characters, both created by the late Rene Goscinny: Asterix The Gaul and Grand Vizier Iznogoud.
In case you're not up to speed with these characters' attributes and what they mean to the French electorate, here's a quick summary. Asterix is a plucky little chap. He's mischievous, he's fiercely independent, loyal, clever and fundamentally anti-authoritarian. In fact, the whole point of Asterix and his village is that they resist the Roman occupation. Iznogoud is the Grand Vizier in Baghdad The Magnificent. He is a self-serving, scheming, cruel man who exploits people and his power to further his own agenda, which is to become Caliph instead of the caliph. He is the embodiment of corrupt state authority. Are you beginning to see how this political scenario could be one hell of an event?
I'm going to assume that by now you're thinking "interesting an idea as this is, it's just some strange mustelid fantasy, it's not in any way real". However it is a fascinating prospect precisely because it's not at all unlikely. It is almost certain that Sarkozy will stand in the 2007 election, and if he does, he will almost certainly make it through to the second round. He is the French right's wonder child, and even if many of them don't like him (De Villepin and Caliph Haroun El-Chirac positively hate him), they will back him because they think he can win. This is not dissimilar to the Labour Party's relationship with Tony Blair in the UK. He is widely seen as a great advocate of law and order, and at a time when there is such a deep climate of fear in France, this is very powerful. He is seen as a doer, for better or for worse, not simply one of the usual givers of vacuous promises. His instincts are pretty authoritarian, rather like David Blunkett.
Jose Bove is a bit of a wildcard because he isn't really a politician. Nevertheless he could be a serious contender. Cast your minds back to the results of the 2002 election. The second round was a contest between the right (Chirac) and the far-right (Le Pen). Chirac had won 19.88% of the vote in the first round, Le Pen 16.86%. You'll notice that candidates don't need a very large share of the vote to go through to the second round. The main candidate of the Left was Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, who polled only 16.18%. The combined centre-left won 27.12% of the vote, the hard left 10.44%. Importantly, the real winning candidate was "none of the above" as there was a record 28.40% abstention rate. The left-wing vote was split for the usual reasons. The left-wing parties, unable to agree on the colour of dung, fielded no less than seven candidates in as many parties that often only differ on points of detail. If Bove were to have the backing of a significant section of the Left, he could become the candidate of choice for a large section of disillusioned French left-leaning electorate.
He has in fact stated that he will stand only if he has the backing of the hard left and the Greens, and if his candidacy would not cause a repeat of the 2002 scenario by splitting the left-wing vote into insignificance. In other words, if he plays, he'll be playing to win. I would love to see this happen, amongst other reasons because it would make George Bush's head explode, and that alone has to be a good enough reason to pray that this comes to pass.
Would it be a good thing for France to have a government formed by Bove? Probably not. He's good with agriculture, but his economic policies beyond that would most likely be pretty awful. On the other hand, I wouldn't like Sarkozy to have that sort of power either, mainly because of his very authoritarian views. So what's it to be? Asterix or Iznogoud? Well, as Gracchus tells the Roman senate in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus:
"I'll take a little Republican corruption along with a little Republican freedom, rather than no freedom at all under Crassus!"
And Crassus very much wanted to be Caliph instead of the Caliph.