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Monday, 6 May 2013

The political numbers game - don't always believe what you see

As well as being a public holiday, May Day is the time for marching in France, and last Wednesday was no different.

Er...perhaps that needs to be reworded as any time seems good for the French to take to the streets.

If you need proof of that, just look at this past weekend.

First up, 35,000 (if you believe the organisers) or 15,000 (according to the police) took to the streets of Paris in "Le Manif Pour Tous" - yet another demonstration by those opposed to the law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption which was passed by parliament last month and is currently awaiting the approval of the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council).

And then there was Jean-Luc Mélanchon and his 180,000 supporters (his figures) or 30,000 (according to the police) gathered in the capital, campaigning against austerity and calling for "a clean up of French politics and the creation of a new and improved France in the form of a 6th Republic."

Yes, the police were busy - but quite how busy, is open to question.

Anyway, back to May Day when, as tradition has it, trade unions take the lead in celebrating workers' rights (and protesting against government policy - this time around, austerity) in demonstrations throughout the country - 160,000 (organisers) or 97,300 police.

Once again, it's hard to get an exact picture.

But thankfully we've got the media to inform and provide those images that help give an accurate impression, haven't we?

Er...haven't we?

Well, that depends.

Take the case, for example, of another traditional rally in Paris on May 1, that of the far right (or economically protectionist, socially conservative nationalist party as Wikipedia now describes it) Front National, when Joan of Arc was inevitably evoked as a symbol of pride and patriotism, and the party's leader, Marine Le Pen delivered an address to the assembled throng.

Front National May Day rally, Paris
(screenshot BFM TV)

Once again there was a notable difference between the figures quoted by the organisers (15,000) and the police (6,000) who assembled to hear the woman who would, according to a (nonsensical) poll released at the end of April make it through to a second-round run-off (against Nicolas Sarkozy) if "the presidential elections were held tomorrow".

If you had been watching the three generations of Le Pen - Jean-Marie, Marine and Marion - leading the flag-waving supporters, you might well have had the impression that the far right march to power is inevitable and unstoppable because the camera doesn't lie - does it?

But wait.

Guess who was providing the footage used by many of the all-news channels in France covering the march?

Political journalist Nicolas Domenach revealed all on last Friday's lunchtime news magazine "Nouvelle Edition" on Canal + with a warning to be wary of what you believe you're seeing - it was the Front National itself, with only i>Télé "remembering" to inform viewers of that fact.

Have all those figures done your head in?

Time then perhaps for some musical respite.

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