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What if the no vote wins in France? 

I realise there’s a long way to go until May 29, but I’m surprised that French polls already seem to suggest that the “no” camp will win the referendum on the constitution. Only a few weeks ago, the “yes” campaign was well ahead; now it’s fighting to come through with occasionally ridiculous rhetoric.

Can interior minister Dominique de Villepin really have meant it when he said a no vote would produce “the big market that the Anglo-Saxons dream about, a Europe under US influence, a Europe under Chinese influence”?

What can that possibly mean?

As happens so often in European referenda, the vote will only nominally be about the constitution. Instead, it’s a chance for people to register how much they hate the present govenment. The problem the “yes” camp faces is that if they actually turn to the constitution, even putative supporters will be so bored that they won’t turn up to vote. So only the rabid no voters will bother.

I don’t have that much of a problem with what the constitution says. Major institutional reform is needed to have an effective Europe of 25 countries; even with 15 countries before last year’s expansion, the mechanisms were fairly creaky. What’s wrong with the constitution — drafted by a conference led by former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing — is that it is such a dreary, technocratic document.

The motivation to have a constitution was correct. But the lack of leadership, the inevitable compromises, the failure of imagination produced a treaty, not a constitution.

Of course if the no vote wins, Tony Blair — who will win his third election on 5 May, three weeks before the French vote — will be off a very big hook. It will render moot his promise to have a UK referendum on the constitution next year.

When I mentioned this to a Berkeley political scientist today, he said, “So Blair must be funding the no campaign in France.” Not such a bad idea, come to think of it.

Finding the women 

Katha Pollitt‘s accurate, well-taken questions about why there aren’t more women columnists in prominent positions has been linked to just about everywhere.

By coincidence, Lucy Kellaway writes about the same thing in today’s Financial Times (subscribers only):

  Back to the women columnists. There are hardly any serious ones in the US. This is because, says Dowd, women have difficulty being nasty. Women also are not comfortable pontificating. And if they do write something horrid, all hell breaks loose, as men don’t like taking criticism from women, which in her view is to do with a castration complex. And by way of conclusion, she says there must be lots of brilliant women columnists who are hiding somewhere. “We just need to find and nurture them.” I am not sure who “we” is, but still.

As Kellaway points out, the situation is very different in Britain. She names Polly Toynbee, Melanie Phillips, Julie Burchill, Ann Leslie, Deborah orr and Jackie Ashley. It’s odd that the UK, which is behind the US in many ways in terms of diversity, has advanced women into lots of prominent roles in the media.

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