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Friday, May 1, 2015

The Death of France and Campaigning in the General Election

The Death of France. I am very sorry to confirm the passing of La Belle France. It didn’t happen overnight; the rot set-in in the early ‘80s after socialist President Mitterand was elected and did some really stupid things such as the 35 hour week and exchange controls on use of foreign currency. The country got used to very high levels of state control, intervention and benefits. The big state really set in and none of the successive governments led by weaklings such as Chirac, Sarkozy and Hollande have had the cojones to do anything about it. In April we saw strikes by bus drivers, by the state owned radio stations, the air traffic controllers and plenty of others. It scarcely makes the news anymore despite the huge disruption and misery it causes. Last year’s public expenditure was 57% of GDP making it the highest of any large country in the world. [Anything above 50% is generally considered utterly nuts]. To support this, taxes are not only very high, but there are so many of them that few people actually understand the system. Old privileges are fiercely protected by unionised workforces making it impossible for the French economy to modernise and compete: in the SNCF (the railways) the average retirement age on a full pension is 52.5 in part due to the detrimental effect on health of shovelling coals into a burning engine; air traffic controllers have recently gone on strike bringing complete chaos to millions of passengers (including my family) over the busy Easter holidays - the reason for the strike? They object to their retirement age being raised from 57 to 59 from 2022. [These people have very stressful jobs so their mid career salary of €6,500 with an average 32 hour week and 97 days paid holiday is justified and should be protected according to their union. I think they are lazy slimeballs who should all be fired and have their jobs outsourced to people who do actually give a damn]. In the modern world where people live to 80, this is not only unbelievable but it is unsustainable. Life expectancy in France is amongst the highest in the world at 78 for men and 84 for women and rising. Other state protected employees with advantageous conditions include miners, gas and electricity workers, police, local and national government employees, people working in state owned industry, religious minsters, etc. The list is long, the benefits great, the retirement age (on about 67% salary) very low. It’s all rather surreal and unsustainable. Yet reforms are rare and public support appears to be in favour of retaining them, as the strikes seem to get little resistance from any quarter. Should anyone really expect the taxpayer to give them a huge pension for 30 years???? Unfortunately I know that inward investment into France is not good and that a growing number of multi-nationals are crossing France off their list. There is still a good number of large French companies creating employment and exporting across the world, particularly for example in the luxury goods and fashion sector; but this must be threatened as the ability to produce in France and make money in France becomes increasingly difficult in such a hostile environment. Hollande started his presidency by imposing a 75% income tax on the very rich many of whom took measures to avoid this (such as leaving the country and moving to neighbouring Switzerland, Belgium or the UK. It’s now hard to walk down a central London street without hearing French spoken – it is estimated about 500,000 French people, mostly young and highly motivated, have moved to London). The tax ended up raising less money than before so he eventually scrapped it. A small example of the warped economic mind of the socialist. Switch on the evening news and there is a good chance you will see another employee/patron dispute where the employer is looking to shut down the business and the employees, with the law on their side, are resisting. Cases of the patron (the boss) being locked in the building for several days are not rare. Yet the authorities don’t intervene. Employment rights which are already biased heavily in favour of the employee increase when the number of employees reaches 50. So the number of firms with just under 50 staff is huge with a big drop in the number with just over 50. Firms stay small intentionally. It is all very socialist, very uneconomic and utterly batty. The unions will hold out until the bitter end to ‘protect’ their employees when in fact all they are doing is hastening the collapse of a once fine country.

Maybe I exaggerate the death of France; if so, she is terminally ill and only a de Gaulle or a Thatcher could come along and save her. Perhaps there could be a resurrection if an inspirational leader were to appear magically. One thing is sure, voting in Marine Le Pen and her National Front party would seal the final nail in the coffin; dead as a dodo. Oh and of course the stupidly high unemployment rate of over 10% (much higher amongst the young and much higher still among the immigrant communities) leads to much trouble and fuels the growth of the far right. It is the failure of the current and past moderate governments to sort the economy which creates the unemployment which in turn fuels the racism and the explosion of the far right – a group which is fast approaching ‘acceptable’ status for the man in the street. Quelle ironie! A ghastly vicious circle which is fast destroying a really great nation. And yes, just to confirm, I am talking about France, not Greece.

In the run up to the General Election on May 7th, I have just spent a day in a local constituency office working as a volunteer telephoning people to ask their voting intentions. Over a period of over 7 hours, I called hundreds of people. Many were out in which case I left a message on their voicemails, but to my surprise, many were at home and the vast majority were happy to speak to me. The purpose of the calls was to politely ask if they had received their postal voting papers (where applicable) and to ask if the would tell me who they were voting for. Based on this information, the local office would follow-up my call with the most relevant action – ranging from nothing, to a suitably targeted letter, to another phone call. It is all very scientific and data driven and I was impressed. Most of the people I spoke to were happy to talk – either briefly – or in a few cases at length! Only two people hung up on me and quite a lot were absolutely delightful! I must remember to be nicer next time someone like me rings me! My favourites were the people who said, No, they wouldn’t tell me who they were voting for on principle – and then proceeded to do so – always ending with a laugh. I will happily do this again as it is therapeutic connecting with all different types of people and hearing their stories. One lady told me at length how upset she was about the lions on the roundabout. I had no idea what she was talking about until I conferred with my manager later who explained that there had been a public outcry over the white ‘lines’ that had been painted at the roundabout and confused everyone. My response was something along the lines of how great things must be down here if that is people’s biggest worry! Part of the beauty of this exercise is that you just never know what is going to happen on your next call. The Office Manager has a box of jelly beans and she hands one out each time one of the volunteers is told to f**k off. The box has not yet been opened.

"The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government or a brain to a Labour government." Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minster and Leader of the Liberal Democrats. April 15th 2015, three weeks prior to his resignation following the party's disastrous showing in the election.

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