Most British politicians are blissfully ignorant about French politics. Fixated by events in Washington, they rarely think about those just across the Channel. Every Whitehall spad will know the name of the mayor of New York; perhaps only one in a hundred could identify the mayor of Paris.
It would be naive to think this longstanding complacency was about to change, least of all in the solipsistic politics of a Brexit Britain in which fewer people than ever learn modern languages. Nevertheless, strange but true, as Britain turns its back on the EU, there seems to be a glimmer of awareness that politics in the republic in 2017 are not only at an interesting stage but might even have some direct bearing on the tortuous process to which MPs regrettably gave their assent when they voted for the triggering of article 50 this week.
In three months’ time, France will have a new president in place of François Hollande. The prospect that this president might be Marine Le Pen of Front National explains most of the uptick of awareness about France. Yet if three opinion polls published this week are correct, it will not be Le Pen. Instead, it will be ex-banker and former finance minister Emmanuel Macron, an economic and social liberal who speaks impeccable English, knows this country well and is running as an independent centrist. The polls show him defeating Le Pen in a head to head by 63% to 37%.
Much can change before the first round of voting on 23 April, and opinion polls…