Election day and there is a definite buzz in the air as we cycle past the mairie this morning. By 8.00pm, it is all over and Sarkozy and Royal are going through the next round. I am surprised Madame Royal has made it and not the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou. Not only has she made some very high-profile gaffes, but every village in France is obliged to display a picture of all twelve candidates and, in my area of France, Ségolene Royal's is nearly always defaced.
Over the past month or so, I have sat through many political discussions with my French friends, who while becoming very impassioned on the subject, remain unfailingly polite and manage never to reveal for whom they are going to vote. They ask what I make of it all, and I say I am surprised at how much respect there is in France for the political process. In the UK, I tell them, politicians are increasingly regarded as a bunch of crooks and fraudsters, and as a result, decreasing numbers of the electorate actually bother to vote.
French politicians, even if they have countless lovers stashed in the closet, or are tapping private phone lines (as an infatuated Mitterand did with Bond actress Carole Bouquet), are by contrast, relatively untainted by spin and the unbearable smugness of power that oozes from many of our current cabinet ministers. Perhaps because France has undergone several revolutions, most politicians give the impression of humbly wanting to serve the people rather than rule them. As one of my French friends put it, ‘in France, it is not a question of the president gaining power, as preventing someone else from taking it.’
The spouses also seem to behave with more dignity. It is hard to imagine Bernadette Chirac running round Lidl or its downmarket equivalent, greedily piling cheap freebies into a trolley, as our own Cherie Blair once did in Australia. (Oh the shame -if only it had been Hermes or Prada that she was looting, the world might have had more sympathy!)