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.
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.
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.