Bring Back Condorcet

Going into the first round of the French presidential election, four candidates have polling figures between 19 and 23 per cent. The shooting of a policeman in Paris on Thursday night won’t do any harm to Marine Le Pen’s chances of making it to the second round. In 2002, her father narrowly beat the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, into third place (16.9 to 16.1 per cent), setting up a second round contest with Jacques Chirac that he lost by the record margin of 18 to 82 per cent. Since the 13 other candidates, who between them took 47 per cent of the vote in the first round, were more left than right-wing, it is quite possible that Jospin would have won the second round if only he had got that far. Almost certainly, several of the 13 would have beaten Le Pen. More »

In Berlin

A washed-out railway embankment between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz, c.1910

‘Colonialism as a form of violent foreign rule was legitimised by a racist ideology of European superiority,’ says the board that greets you at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. In a slightly too small room, hundreds of objects are laid out in clusters along a line representing the Greenwich Meridian, a ‘symbol of Eurocentrism’ and the anchor for a system that European powers used to navigate, conquer and impose borders on large parts of the world. The objects – carved elephant tusks, commercial images for coffee brands, whips – tell the story of the German Empire. More »

At the Slaughterhouses

rondpoint

On my first visit to Algiers, in 2002, I met a friend for dinner in the abattoir neighbourhood. The city’s great slaughterhouses are among the oldest in North Africa. ‘There is nothing like the meat in the abattoirs,’ my friend insisted. We ate skewers of grilled lambs’ kidneys: rich, salty, succulent cubes of meat served with nothing but baguettes to wrap them in.

The abattoirs are now the site of a future ruin, slated for destruction to make way for a new national assembly. In 2013, a group of artists circulated a petition calling on the government to turn them into an arts centre that would preserve their memory as part of Algeria’s cultural heritage. Hassen Ferhani, a young filmmaker, spent two months inside a slaughterhouse. The result is an oddly beautiful film, Dans ma tête un rond-point (‘A Roundabout in My Head’), which Ferhani presented last week at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. More »

Why did Labour MPs vote with the government?

It’s a done deal. Theresa May has bagged the two-thirds Commons support that, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, is needed to call an election before term. The big question is: why did most Labour MPs vote with the government? Given the situation, they should eye an early election with as much relish as badgers do shaving brushes. But no, the ivory-handled bristle has got the brocks crowding the lobby. Less than a quarter of the PLP didn’t back the government: a handful voted against; around fifty abstained. More »

When Yes Means No

The outcome of the Turkish constitutional referendum to expand President Erdoğan’s powers was a foregone conclusion from the moment it was announced. The results were nevertheless surprising because they showed how resilient the opposition in Turkish society is.

Turkey has been under an oppressive ‘state of emergency’ since 21 July 2016. Declared after the failed coup attempt on 15 July (and set to continue for the foreseeable future), it has given President Erdoğan nearly unlimited powers. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more than 100,000 sacked, including thousands of academics, judges, prosecutors and union activists. It is a good bet that anyone left in a civil service position in Turkey is either an Erdoğan crony or someone who knows how to keep their head down. The president has captured most state institutions which are supposed to be autonomous or free from political pressure, including the Electoral Board. More »

Mélenchon’s Rise

On 9 April, the left’s late-runner for the French presidency, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, held a rally in Marseille. He called for the formation of a Sixth Republic while his supporters – 70,000 of them, according to his campaign team – roared ‘Résistance! Résistance!’ Five years earlier, almost to the day, he stood in the same place, for the same purpose, sharing the same message at a very similar time: weeks before the first round of the presidential election, with his campaign enjoying a sudden late surge in support. Mélenchon hasn’t changed much since then, but the political atmosphere around him has transformed. More »

May’s Gambit

It’s said that British prime ministers are either bookies or vicars. Some are determinately one or the other, while others think they are the one while being the other. Tony Blair was a bookie who thought he was a vicar. Theresa May – like Gordon Brown, the child of a minister – talks like a vicar and behaves like a bookie. People will talk about May ‘gambling’ on an early poll, but the point about bookies is that they don’t gamble, but play the percentages. In announcing a snap election for 8 June, May will have calculated that, for the Tories, things can’t get any better. Current polls have them around 20 per cent ahead of Labour. May is set to win by a country mile. More »

The Gospel according to Frank Kermode

‘The Bible is a familiar model of history,’ Frank Kermode wrote in The Sense of an Ending:

It begins at the beginning (‘In the beginning…’) and ends with a vision of the end (‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’); the first book is Genesis, the last Apocalypse. Ideally, it is a wholly concordant structure, the end is in harmony with the beginning, the middle with beginning and end. The end, Apocalypse, is traditionally held to resume the whole structure, which it can do only by figures predictive of that part of it which has not been historically revealed. The Book of Revelation made its way only slowly into the canon – it is still unacceptable to Greek Orthodoxy – perhaps because of learned mistrust of over-literal interpretation of the figures. But once established it showed, and continues to show, a vitality and resource that suggest its consonance with our more naive requirements of fiction.

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The Usual Rhetoric

Sean Spicer’s take on the Final Solution has prompted much indignation (and a series of faltering apologies from the White House press secretary), but I doubt he’s hiding any swastikas in his closet: the guy probably doesn’t even know what a swastika is, any more than he knows what Zyklon B is. More »

On ‘Elle’

Reading interviews with Paul Verhoeven on the publicity trail for his latest movie, Elle, you get the sense he might be disappointed at the relative lack of outrage over his ‘psycho-thriller’. The film, based on Philippe Djian’s prize-winning 2012 novel, Oh…, stars Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc. It begins with her being raped by a man in a ski mask, who has broken into her house. More »

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