French elections – Brighton style 2022

For four days in 2022, part of the Unitarian Church in New Road, Brighton became a little bit of France.  Look hard and you will see the “writing on the door”.  On a background of the French tricolore is the single word Élections.

Image: S. Hinton

Sunday 10 April was the day of the first round of the French les présidentielles [presidential election]. The several thousand French voters in the Brighton area and wider afield (postcodes BN, PO and SO) seemed to have preferred to stay in bed.

Only 25% of those registered to vote in Brighton voted. Few came to Brighton.  Not surprising.  Many roads were closed for the Brighton marathon and movement around the city was difficult.   Of the 25%, some had already voted by post; a very large number had opted to vote via Internet.  Several Brighton residents were registered to vote at polling stations in other parts of the UK (London, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds, Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow).  Perhaps more significantly, there were 12 candidates on the list.  No one candidate was likely to take an outright win.  Voters would have to return to les urnes [the ballot box] for le deuxième tour [second round].

That was indeed the case:  in the first round, Emmanuel Macron (of La république en marche – a “centrist- liberal” party) gained the support of 44% of that small band of voters, followed a considerable way behind by left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon (24%). 

Environmentalist Yannick Jadot came third in the ballot with a respectable 9%. (Brighton is, of course, noted for its “Green thinking” population) Finally came the two extreme right-wingers:  Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen (both around 4%). 

The second round of voting was a run-off between incumbent president, Emmanuel Macron, and Marine Le Pen.  On April 24 just over one third (34%) of local eligible French voters cast their vote.  And there was no doubt about their decision:  M. Macron clocked in at just over 88% while Mme Le Pen trailed far behind at just under 9%. Pity the poor French voters in our area.  No sooner had they been asked to turn out for les présidentielles than on 12 June they were invited to come and vote in les législatives [parliamentary elections]. 

North-west Europe sends one député [M.P.] to the French Assemblée Nationale [lower house of parliament / House of Commons].

The first round of voting attracted less than 3% of local French voters into Brighton in person.  It is not surprising, then, that two of the 12 candidates received 0% votes at the Brighton polling station.  And back again the voters had to come on 19 June for the second round.  This time nearly 5% of them came to do their civic duty (bearing in mind that the majority had a postal or internet vote).  And surprise, surprise, many of the roads were again closed – this time for the British Heart Foundation London-Brighton Bike Ride.

In the second round, the incumbent, Alexandre Holroyd , a close ally of M. Macron, was opposed by Charlotte Minvielle of Europe Écologie Les Verts [a Green party].  Alexandre Holroyd kept his seat.  But no thanks to voters in Brighton. Nor to those in any other of the nations which form the 3rd circonscription [constituency].

French voters in Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Oslo, Reykjavík, Riga, Stockholm, Tallin and Vilnius all gave Mme Minvielle a majority – Reykjavik massively at 75% as opposed to a mere 25% for M. Holroyd.  “London” (i.e. all the English polling stations) voted overwhelmingly for M. Holroyd (60%).  And “London” has, of course, far more French voters than practically all the other constituent nations combined (31,000 as against, for example, 97 in Riga).

However, these statistics hide what happened in Brighton.  In the second round, Charlotte Minvielle outstripped Alexandre Holroyd.  She won 54% des voix [of the votes] to 42% for the sitting member.  Again, Brighton’s “Green” credentials came to the fore.

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So what would greet you as you walked into the Unitarian Church Hall?  Smiling faces and a relaxed atmosphere.  A good start. 

Next you will spot la table de décharge [the issuing table]On the table are the registers of voters, a pile of envelopes and two piles of cards.  Today, for the deuxième tour des législatives, one pile contains blue and white cards. They are those bearing the name of Alexandre Holroyd. The other pile is of green and white cards. They have Charlotte Minville’s name on them. 

Image: Deuxième tour des législatives, Brighton June 2022 © Frédéric Laloux

After showing a form of identity, you will be allowed to pick up one card from each pile and a blue envelope (which will be the identical shape or colour whether you are in Oslo, Paris, Nouméa, Fort-de-France or Canberra – Vive Napoléon and uniformity).

[Note: if there are 12 candidates, as is often the case in a first round of elections, there will be 12 identically sized cards, each card with the name of one candidate.  Voters must pick up a minimum of two cards and up to a maximum of however many candidates there are.]

Next you will move into an isoloire [voting booth].  It is very unlike the very casual and largely open British booths.  You would do well not to suffer from claustrophobia. Once inside, you will choose one card (and one card only, otherwise you spoil your vote), put it into the envelope and leave you hidey-hole.

Image: Image: © Ceridwen Creative Commons

When you emerge from the isoloire you will be asked to place your envelope in the urne [ballot box] and sign your name on the register of voters.  And voilà, you have cast your vote.

Image: Brighton polling station.  Image: © Frédéric Laloux

Many thanks to M. Frédéric Laloux, Honorary French Consul for Brighton and Newhaven for supplying the photographs and all of the information about the Brighton Polling Station.

Comte et Comtesse de Flahaut

French diplomat Auguste-Charles-Joseph de Flahaut de La Billarderie, comte de Flahaut had the characteristics of a Don Juan and those of a courageous soldier in equal parts. With his charm and tact, he must have been a popular visitor to Brighton.  It is not entirely clear whether the same can be said of his wife.

Portrait of Charles de Flahaut c. 1864 Source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_de_Charles_de_Flahaut.JPG”>MOSSOT

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Jacques-Joseph Tissot in Brighton

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                                                James Tissot “Too Early” (1873) Source unknown

After being wounded in the Franco Prussian-war, and having briefly supported the Paris Commune in 1871, Jacques-Joseph Tissot made his way to London.  There he settled from some 11 years. He found immediate success.  The public and most critics admired the “delicacy of tone” in his pictures of “pretty English girls”. Continue reading

The French Honorary Consul (2) 1821 and 2021

Early in 2021 Frederic Laloux was appointed French Honorary Consul for Brighton and Newhaven.  M. Laloux is the most recent incumbent of an official post reaching back to at least 1821. This post is unpaid, apart from expenses.  It occasionally carries the title Vice-Consul as the local consuls (there are about 30 across the UK) report to the Consul Général in London.

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Brighton as the first Honorary French Consul would have known it in the 1820s. Image (c) Regency Society / Society of Brighton Print Collectors

 

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Brighton-Biarritz 1938 and 1946

This badge is tangible proof of the fact that there was once a close link between Brighton and Biarritz going back nearly a century.

Badge

Delegates badge 1938 – Courtesy of the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Biarritz had hosted a delegation of Brighton worthies in 1932 with a view to forming tourism and cultural ties between the two towns.

It was now Brighton’s duty to return the French hospitality.  Not an easy or cheap task for Brighton to emulate the generous hospitality of the French town.  At first, a visit to Brighton was projected for 1933 but did not take place.

There was talk of a reciprocal visit at Whitsun 1936, but the death of King George V in January and then the abdication of Edward VIII at the end of the year put all the arrangements on hold until 1938 when at last Brighton could show off her many and varied attractions.

The late May sun of 1938 shone down on the Biarritz delegation as it made the long journey by train from Biarritz to Paris, from Paris to Dover, from Dover to London and finally from London to Brighton.  First there was a reception in the Royal Pavilion at which all the delegates were handed Des insignes, veritable bijoux sur émail, aux armes de Brighton sur fond aux trois couleurs françaises, avec ces mots “Brighton-Biarritz Entente” [Jewel-like badges in enamel, showing the Brighon crest on a background of the three French colours and bearing the inscription “Brighton-Biarritz Entente.] (See image above.)  The badge was valuable, not only as a souvenir, but it allowed the delegates free travel within Brighton and free entry to all the municipal-run tourist attractions of the town.

BTNRP_BHSHVol 77 Biarritz facilites for visitors 1838

Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and The Keep, Brighton

The reception was followed by a banquet for 200 people in the exotic surroundings of the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion.  More entertainment followed:  a trip to see the Derby at Epsom, a visit to Arundel Castle as the guests of the Duke of Norfolk, a “business” meeting between the aldermen of the two towns.  The golfers in the French party even manage to retain the Coupe de l’Entente Brighton-Biarritz at the Hollingbury Golf Course.  But an event which perhaps most touched the French delegation came at the end of a music-hall performance of “Crest of the Wave” at the Hippodrome … the whole audience of 2,000 people rose to sing La Marseillaise (followed bien sûr by God Save the King).

Yes, there were mutters in the local Brighton press about the cost of such a visit, but oh! the free publicity for the town.  It far outstripped the expense.

Brighton Councillor J. C. Sherrott was outraged on behalf of Brighton ratepayers:

Of all the foolish, crazy, mad and wasteful bits of expenditure this Council has ever entered into, commend me to the Biarritz delegation. Just fancy! That small, almost forgotten seaside town on the Continent, coming over here and having good English money spent on them to take them to the Derby, and members of our own Labour party, who are supposed to be proponents of democracy going to enjoy the Sport of Kings at the expense of the ratepayers of Brighton.  It fills one with nausea. West Sussex Gazette 16 June 1938

Described as “one of the town’s financial brains”, Cllr J. C. Sherrott even went so far as to demand a Ministerial enquiry.  This demand was rejected by a special meeting of the Town Council. We must assume that for Brighton, as for Biarritz, the free publicity was worth the outlay.

And then there was World War II.  Biarritz was occupied from June 1940 and the town heavily fortified as part of the Nazi Atlantic Wall.  It was not completely liberated until August 1944. Tragically, this liberation was achieved at the cost of Allied bombardment of the town with the loss of at least 90 lives and much destruction of property.  On 1st September 1944, the Mayor of Brighton was one of the first to send to Biarritz “a message of congratulation and hope for a glorious future.”

After the war, there were hopes of reviving the Entente Brighton-Biarritz and in April 1946 the Mayor of Biarritz again extended an invitation to a large party from Brighton. Despite the damaged appearance of the town, the Biarots (townsfolk of Biarritz) were keen to have English guests at the inauguration of a memorial to Edward VII and one to his mother, Queen Victoria – the former a replacement for the monument destroyed during the war.  Brighton Town Council decided that there was not enough money in the coffers for a large contingent to go to France, but that the Mayor, the Mayoress and the Town Clerk should act as their representatives at the inauguration.

Eight years after his last outburst and true to form, now ‘former Councillor’ J. C. Sherrott was up in arms again and quoted as saying: “Surely at the present time, austerity in all directions is being preached and forced upon us by the Government; when Sir Stafford Cripps is telling us that it is impossible for women to have fully-fashioned stockings or even necessary household linen; when women have to stand for hours in shop queues on the chance of getting the bare necessities of life, it is not desirable, even for the Mayor and Town Clerk to go abroad.”

Clearly, in ex-Councillor Sherrott’s mind, the saving of three rail fares to Biarritz would solve the problem of affordable fully-fashioned stockings. True, rationing was draconian in Britain in the late 1940s, as it was in France to a slightly lesser extent.  But both towns saw this event as a move towards a brighter future.  The visit was a success. Being an agricultural country (and benefitting from the European Recovery Programme – more commonly known as the Marshall Plan) the French were able to supply the delegates from Brighton with simple but elegant banquets… even though Brighton paid for at least one of those banquets. Lunch on the day of the inauguration was:

Hors-d’Œuvre à la Française

Saumon de l’Adour Froid Sauce Verte

Poulet Reine Poëlé Ramuncho

Cœurs de Laitues

Fromage du Pays

Gâteau Basque

Café

Lunch on the last day, 30 April, was equally refined, with wines supplied, free of charge, by the best vignerons (wine producers) of the area.  The Town Clerk, Joseph G Drew, was so impressed that he kept two of the menus during the stay, including one signed by many of the attendees. These documents are held in The Keep in Brighton.

During the six-day stay, Mayor Cllr Walter Clout and Mayoress Mrs Lillian Clout were ably supported by Joseph Drew who kept careful notes of when speeches needed to be made, what alterations had been made to the programme and indeed who they were to meet, including the British Ambassador who had come for the unveiling of the monuments.

Other activities on the programme included films (in French), a toro del fuego [“illumination of the cliffs”] followed by a ball, there was a boxing match and a game of pelota as well as a visit to Pau via the village of Ascain where the party had lunch.

Hôtel Etchola breakfast room

(c) Suzanne Hinton

The Union Jack flags on the tables do not show up well on this post card. The French and British parties probably did no more than drop into the Hôtel Etchola for le goûter [afternoon tea].

Joseph Drew O.B.E. was a careful man.  He was mindful of the criticisms that ex-councillor Sherrott might raise.  He kept a meticulous, hand-written account of all the expenses incurred by the Mayoral party, noting down the payments for everything in both pounds and francs (at what seems to have been the going rate of 480F to the pound).  As well as the items shown in the short extract below, these expenses included breakfast on the train (15 shillings) and ‘sending cables to Brighton’ (£1.3.0).  Luncheon for the Mayor of Biarritz and other local dignitaries set the party back a hefty £90.0.0 (44,000F) although laundry was a mere £1.0.0.  Most importantly, there were ‘tips to chauffeurs £1.0.0 per day’ as well as a tip to the conductor of the Paris-Biarritz train (£1.0.0).

Town Clerk's accounts

Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and The Keep, Brighton

On returning to Brighton, Mr Drew presented a long report to the Council, stressing the advantages to Brighton of a close relationship with Biarritz, both for tourism as well as cultural and educational exchanges.

And that seems to have been that. 

Brighton is not, and never has been, officially twinned with any overseas town – despite a petition in 2019 in favour of twinning with Nouakchott in Mauritania.  Hove has been twinned with Draveil, near Paris, since 1990 but the link is no longer run under the auspices of the Brighton and Hove City Council.

All the hard work and friendship that had been build up over many a long year seem to have vanished in post-war austerity and not returned, not even during the halcyon years of Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Brighton, 14 November 1827

On this day, exactly 193 years ago, a dapper 46-year-old Frenchman attended an elegant ball in the Assembly Rooms of the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton. What a splendid affair.  The rooms had recently been redecorated by Frederick Crace following his successful work at the Royal Pavilion.  The officers of the 52nd Infantry and the 7th Hussars were in their dress uniform (although the latter disgraced themselves by dancing while wearing their swords).  The ladies were magnificent in their ballgowns and jewels.  Even elderly Mrs Fitzherbert graced the event with her presence.