It's coming up for election time in Dieppe, and across the whole of France, too. The voters are about to elect a new president (or to stick by the old one) and to choose a new parliament.
The whole operation is rather complicated here, by comparison with British practice.
In Britain, we have ONE general election on ONE Thursday, when we are invited each to vote for ONE MP.
And then they add up all the MPs elected from all the parties, and the leader of the party (or, as at present, the coalition of parties) with most seats in the new House of Commons tells the Queen (in case she hasn't been watching telly), what's happened.
Then the leader of that winning party or coalition chooses the government to rule the country for another five years. And the Queen arrives in her carriage to open the new parliament.
It's much more complicated in France.
I can tell you now that the voters in Dieppe will be going to the polls on FOUR occasions in 2012 - on 22 April, 6 May, 10 June and 17 June - before we know what government France will have until 2017
In France, the big job goes to the president of the republic, under a constitution that was largely fashioned by and for General Charles de Gaulle, who presented himself as the father of the nation during most of the years between the 1940s and the 1960s.
The president is elected by universal suffrage. He (or she, but always hitherto he) is the head of state (fulfilling the role of the monarch in the United Kingdom), at the same time as exercising supreme executive power: the Queen and David Cameron wrapped into one.
To deal with the presidential election in 2012, we must expect two rounds before the choice is made. In the first round, on 22 April, the voters can choose from an array of candidates who have each managed to assemble 500 nominations from various elected office-holders (mayors and others).
If somebody gets 50% of the poll, that person is elected. But that certainly won't happen in 2012, and there will be a second round two weeks later, involving only the two candidates who topped the poll in the first round.
In 2O12, Nicolas Sarkozy - the only candidate known to some extent to the British public - is seeking to be elected for a second term. He leads the main right-wing party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). He was elected in 2007, winning with his promise of putting the economy in order ("work longer to earn more"), to control bad behaviour and to create an ordered society.
Most (including in his own party) would agree Sarkozy hasn't succeeded in fulfilling all his proclaimed aims, though he has managed to economise on reducing pension rights. In 2O12, he has sharpened his message, including blaming immigrants for many of France's problems, and thereby seeking to seduce votes from the extreme-right Front National.
Sarkozy's main opponent in this election is indicated by the opinion polls to be François Hollande, candidate and former leader of the Socialist Party, which gained power with the election of François Mitterrand as president in 1981, but has been in the doldrums since 1995. For weeks past, Hollande has been approaching 30% in the opinion polls, with Sarkozy a few points behind.
The Parti socialiste bears some resemblance as a social democratic party to the Labour Party in Britain, but is historically less linked to the trade union movement. Both parties can produce liberating rhetoric, allied to conventional institutional practice.
François Hollande, whose policies include increasing expenditure on education and soaking the very rich, is at the same time intent on reassuring the bankers in the City of London and elsewhere that he doesn't want to upset the capitalist applecart.
An increasingly strong voice on the left of the Socialist Party is provided by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the recently constituted Front de Gauche, incorporating the Communists and others. Mélenchon, a great orator, calls boldly for a reconstitution of French society, with redistribution of wealth throughout. He won't be elected president, but, standing now at around 10% in the polls, he and his influence can be strong if Hollande is elected president.
Another big player in the presidential stakes is François Bayrou, a nice, comforting guy who comes from the country near the Pyrenees and likes horses as well as people. Bayrou, rated at around 12% in the polls, represents the Centre in politics. It's not too clear what that means, but Bayrou says he wants to take the best ideas from all sides.
Lastly, and not to be ignored among the big beasts, is Marine Le Pen, candidate of the Front National, who could be one of the top three in the first-round result, showing now at 15% or more in the polls. Her appeal to xenophobic opinion and to the dispossessed working class is a troubling and powerful factor.
Then we come to the parliamentary elections in June. They can be expected to mirror the main choice of the preceding presidential election. That's not a rule, but just the way people behave.
You might be surprised to learn that Dieppe, former playground of the very royalist Duchesse de Berry and of our own Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria's wayward son), has a popular young - or youngish - Communist mayor (effectively, leader of the council).
Indeed, Dieppe has chosen to have a Communist mayor for 34 of the last 41 years. And it has elected a Communist MP on two occasions, in 1978 and 1997.
The French Communist Party is much diminished in its electoral strength since the immediate post-war years, when it polled more than 25% of the national vote. The party has long since discarded the Stalinist practice and ideology that infected its French cultural roots, but the erosion of the traditional working class, accompanying the disappearance of the old industrial base of France, has contributed to its political decline. But the party still has 10,000 elected councillors across France.
In the parliamentary elections (first round on 10 June), the Communist mayor, Sébastien Jumel, will be the candidate of the Front de Gauche (the Left Front that includes the Communist Party), in this newly extended constituency, standing against the sitting MP, the Socialist Sandrine Hurel, and another sitting MP, Michel Lejeune, who represents in a somewhat individualistic way the UMP.
Nobody will get more than 50% of the votes in this constituency on 10 June, so there will be a second round on 17 June, when under the rule of "republican discipline" the second-placed left candidate (whether Socialist or Communist), can be expected to desist in favour of the one who got more votes in the first round. Hurel will say "Vote Jumel", or Jumel will say "Vote Hurel".
Communists and Socialists can scrap like ferrets in a sack (while running left-wing councils together), but "la discipline républicaine" still operates.
We'll see who comes top in this constituency on 10 June, and who gets elected to represent Dieppe on 17 June.
Out of the four rounds of national voting, a government will emerge. It will be designated by the president, but its colour will reflect the balance of political forces emerging from the parliamentary elections. The Green and Ecological Party may also have a significant representartion in the new national assembly, although its candidate, Eva Joly, seems to have minimum support (around 3%) in the presidential election.
Don't expect democratic perfection. France will still be dominated by the weight of the personalised presidency.
And don't expect democratic perfection in Britain either. We still have that peculiar "first-past-the-post" electoral system, which snuffs out many enriching voices in society.
We have a long way to go, in France and in Britain, before we get our voting systems right.
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