Last Sunday 'nearly eleven million French citizens turned down the new Constitution and voted Non, but nine-and-a-half millions voted Qui.
By a Staff Reporter
Last month, by only 309 votes to 249, the French Constituent Assembly passed it. The constitution placed absolute power over French political life, and its departments, over property, and over the courts, in the hands of a single chamber.
The new constitution was supported to a man by the French Communist Party : it was officially supported by the French Socialists.
It was opposed by the Christian Democrats (M.R.P.), the Radical Socialists, and the parties of the Right.
I have just toured London testing the reactions of the French colony in the City to the news from their country. I found it satisfied by the result, but considerably less jubilant than British Conservatives might imagine. The consensus among these citizens of France was that there were two reasons for the decision against the constitution. The first is the obvious and the hopeful: the French are determined that France will be ruled by a Parliament in the tradition of the West. The second is that a great number of those who voted against the constitution did so because they don't like the Government they have got at present.
DIVISIONS STILL DEEP, T was reminded that the political cleavage in Fiance goes very deep. Even among the clergy the leaning towards the Left is most pronounced. The .ease of Pere Riquet, Se., was placed before me by a French Conservative whose agitation at the famous Jesuit's demands for radical social changes in his Lenten sermons in Notre 'Dame was a perfect illustration of the political cleavage he was telling me about.
From another source I heard that among the younger clergy the whole trend is Left-wards.
Conditions in France at present, said one contact just returned to London, are extremely bad. It is impossible in the towns to get meat. No fat ration has been available in Paris for over a
month. I have received. similar reports from British visitors to the City during the past few weeks. Yet in certain country districts there is an abundance of food. And almost anything can be purchased in the black market by those who have money.
" LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE"
It is, according to this informant, "literally impossible " for the ordinary French citizen to live on the rations issued to him. The root of the trouble seems to be, technically, the failure-of the Government to tackle the transport problem. While food rots in one part of France, in others the people rot for want of it.
The French are aware of this and while nearly every citizen, men, women and children are in the black market, they are also suffering from it. They, many of them might have voted last Sunday against the Government as much as against the Constitution, They are sickened of the general political corruption.
I was reminded that although the result of this referendum might open the -way for a Christian Democratic ye:tory, the Christian Democrats in the first place had supported the Constitution.
Taking them as a whole these French men and women were not too sanguine about the party of M. Bidault. They reminded me that he had conspromised on the schools; he had supported the Constitution ; his foreign policy had been conditioned by an appa:ently frantic desire to 'appease le
Left. The Christian Democrats d failed to show France they were capable of governing.
Now was their opportunity. The French, I was told, are tired of political anarchy. They are tired of watching, the party shufflings of the Com munists, Christian Democrats and Socialists, while the black market flourishes and the children starve and are dimoralised by operafions in the black market. If M.R.P. takes its stand uncompromisingly on principle, is motivated by principle arid the needs of the people, it may lead France.
If not, Thorez (after all, 9,284,098 voters followed his Party Line) will take France over. He has shown himself the most dynamic leader in French political life. During the campaign for the Constitution he was over-confident and showed his hand overmuch. It was a hand full of cards .dealt from a table in the Kremlin. He will be careful not to show it so nakedly in the June elections.
The Christian Democrats have still a difficult task ahead. If they put France and Christian Europe unambiguously in the forefront of their programme they will win not only the French voter but the French Socialists.
News from Moscow indicates the cleavage in the party of M. Cousin. That cleavage can be widened to the advantage of M.R.P. and French political life and institutions as a whole. But only a determined effort on the part of Christian politicians will demonstrate their sincerity of their aims to the wavering ranks of French Labour.