By Simon Green
Political debates can often seem dry and rehearsed, with a stage full of career politicians discussing the future of people who seem very removed from the event: the general public. In France’s last Presidential debate, this image was radically challenged. The t-shirt-wearing, car-factory-working, far-left Philipe Poutou stole the show.
Admittedly, many had not really heard of the New Anti-capitalist Party’s candidate before the debate. Running under the slogan “Our lives not their profits,” his candidacy could be seen by many merely a protest vote against the establishment.
However, a candidate such Mr Poutou most likely embraces that kind of label. He is in fact so anti-establishment, that he refused to pose for the post-debate photo with the rest of the candidates, saying they were “not his colleagues.”
During the debate, Poutou’s strategy was to attack the behavioural record of two leading candidates: François Fillon of the Republican Party, and Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National. Both have been implicated in corruption and fraud-related scandals, something which Poutou latched on to as proof of a corrupt political class which ‘ordinary’ people have grown tired of.
While it seems almost impossible that Mr Poutou will get anywhere near reaching the second round of the Presidential Election in May, that is the last reason he is in the race, I would argue.
Anti-establishment candidates claiming to represent the people crop up frequently in elections, and very rarely have any real impact on the result… accepting President Trump as an anomaly.
The point remains though, Poutou probably does not want the stress of being President of the Republic, which would be a bit of a change from working on a Ford production line. What his campaign does do is make the established candidates and political system take a hard look at themselves, as well as highlighting to the electorate the profound differences between themselves and those who govern them. The only front-runner in the race to escape any damage from Poutou’s personal tirades was the centrist Emmanuel Macron, an ex-investment banker who’s never held any elected office before.
Indeed, both candidates have similarities, calling out the failings of the current political system in France and challenging what a Presidential candidate’s CV should look like. Such an approach can work, as according to the polls, it seems like Mr Macron will be the next French president.
Philipe Poutou might not have changed anybody’s opinion on who they will vote for come polling day, but he did at least ease the rigid formality that so many find boring about these debates, and politics in general. Something or someone making modern politics a bit more accessible or relatable to everyone can never be a bad thing.
Photograph: Guillaume G via Flickr.