Two Years Of Front Populaire
From Our Own Correspondent.
Official France at the moment is marking time. The coming visit of the British Sovereigns, felt all the more deeply through the death of Lady Strathmore, and the solemn inauguration of restored Rheims Cathedral, have caught the public imagination in their different ways. But the marking time is really due to the Frenchman's acute realisation that Great Britain in the person of its Prime Minister is managing Europe in a way that must redound in France's favour. At the same time he is con scious that Mr. Chamberlain's way is I very much in contrast with France's post-war attitude.
Slightly wounded in his vanity and annoyed at the articles of his political faith being questioned, he is none the less too intelligent not to rejoice at a detente which removes the fear of war and does not imperil any of France's essential interests.
This is not to say that there is still plenty of unrest behind the scenes and in all quarters.
Since the shutting down of the FrancoCatalonian frontier the activity of the Left leaders has redoubled. Blum and Jouhaux are leading the offensive for the re-opening and the re-victualling of the Reds in arms, ammunition and food. Senor del Vayo, Red Spain's Foreign Minister. is in Paris doing all he can to strengthen this offensive making use of humanitarian arguments on behalf of the women and children of Red Spain.
He has now had to admit that the Republicans cannot feed their people, but he refuses to draw the obvious conclusion that if the women and children of Red Spain are starving. the humanitarian thing to do would be to accept the logic of facts and surrender. Sending more food to Spain is much more likely to profit the military cause than the women, and therefore to prolong the war at the latter's expense.
Pressure on Government
Pressure of two kinds is being brought to bear on the Government.
If the latter maintains the Chamberlain attitude, it risks losing the tacit support of the Socialists and Communists and thus widening the split that already exists in the bosom of the Front Populaire. While, if this crisis is avoided. the Trades Unions will not hesitate to threaten a fresh outbreak of social conflicts and political strikes to press their views home.
With the trend of European relations and the likelihood of the isolation of Spain and improving relations with Italy and Germany, the Right Wing can afford to wait on the development of events. It is deriving considerable amusement at the moment from the Socialist attitude to the Royal Visit.
The Socialists are out-rivalling one another in expressions of homage to royalty because the Anglo-French Entente is supposed to be directed against the Fas cist spirit. But what is to be said of an article in a Left Wing paper which reads:
" The sad event which has darkened the .4nglo-French sky has still more increased the respectful love which the French people have vowed for the British Royal couple. Afflicted just as a mere mortals might he', the most powerful sovereigns in the world have drawn closer to the hearts of Frenchmen."' The " mere mortals " recalls the story of a preacher stating in the presence of Louis XIV that " we are all mortals"; discerning however a look of surprise in the monarch's eye, he quickly added : " At least nearly all of us!"
This Socialist adulation is all the more difficult to account on purely political grounds in that the Socialists are beginning a campaign against the British Prime Minister and his Spanish policy.
Another source of amusement in certain quarters is the nature of the Paris decorations which are held to be in a flamboyant and bad taste unworthy of France's high reputation in such matters.
Beneath the very apparent interest Frenchmen arc taking in Spain and the Royal visit, there is a continuing anxiety over the economic situation.
Poincare's devaluation in 1928 left the franc worth only 65.5 milligrams of gold— or, as the French put it, the franc was only worth 20 gold centimes. The following devaluations are represented graphically down to the present franc which is worth 8.5 gold centimes.
This depreciation of the franc in terms of gold is paralleled by its depreciation in terms of the pound. This latter should favour the French export trade as long as the cast of living in France does not rise in proportion to the fall of the franc.
Unfavourable Trade Balance
But on the other hand it is not sufficiently known that France has lately been buying more from abroad than she has been selling. In this respect a low-valued franc is a handicap.
Other facts Frenchmen are worried about are that French productive activity is markedly inferior to that of the other big countries, the cost of living has risen by 40 per cent. since June, 1936, and lastly, the Government have in the last two years of Popular Front government borrowed larger and larger sums from the Bank of France. This borrowing, together with devaluations of the franc, makes it easier for the Government to pay its internal debts in francs, for it pays in francs which are worth less than the ones it borrowed.