I have just returned from Europe, where there has been an irritating outburst of complacency over recent political events there, from quarters with no right to indulge in it. The huge sigh of pan-European relief over the first round of the French election is completely unjustified. The only candidate who looked and sounded like a president of the French Republic, François Fillon, came third, because of unproved and politically motivated allegations of improper payments to his Welsh wife. The front runner is an untried, practically unknown, glib 39-year-old who claims to be a reformed socialist, Emanuel Macron. He has never been a political candidate before and is married to his former schoolteacher, 24 years his senior.

Only two points behind him, and heading into the run-off election in two weeks of the two top candidates, is the National Front leader Marine Le Pen, a podgy and not particularly well-spoken woman who looks and sounds like the overbearing wife of a village butcher. On Sunday night, the French and foreign media made much of the fact that she ran only slightly ahead of her father Jean Marie Le Pen when he stood against President Jacques Chirac 15 years ago. But in 2002, Chirac quintupled his vote on the second ballot. He was no world beater, but was the incumbent president, had twice been premier, and a successful mayor of Paris (and had scooped a good deal more public money than Fillon’s wife is claimed to have done).

Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the party he founded for disparaging the Holocaust (in which several hundred thousand French perished) when he was 87 years old, and she is not really much of an extremist herself. The great, rich nation of France is in an appalling condition of prolonged misgovernment and national decline, and Ms. Le Pen should take between 40 and 45 per cent of the vote next weekend. There is no reason for optimism that Macron, if elected, and with no party to run in the immediately following legislative elections, will fare any better than hapless François Hollande, who has festered unsuccessfully in the Elysee (presidential) Palace for the last five years.

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