The UMP has a serious problem on its hands: What to do about the second round of the District 4 by-election in the Doubs, in which the UMP candidate has been eliminated, leaving the PS to face the FN alone? Sarkozy for once retracted his jutting jaw and went all soft in the knees: No to the FN, but after that you're on your own. Juppé, seeing an opportunity to shore up his position as the "centrist" alternative to Sarko, stood droit dans ses bottes and proclaimed forthrightly that if he had a vote in the Doubs, he'd vote for the Socialist to bar the FN's way. Staunch resolution--except in the past he'd made the opposite choice. When this was pointed out on France2 news last night, Juppé was undaunted: the facts have changed, he said, the FN is much stronger now than it used to be. In other words, in the past he had to demonstrate his steadfast opposition to "socialo-commmunism," but now he needed to bolster his anti-racist credentials (he didn't fail to point out that the FN candidate had declared her belief in the supposedly self-evident fact that some races are superior to others).
There is a certain comic element to this ballet of pre-positioning, in that in this day and age of course the whole concept of "republican discipline" is a bit passé. Party loyalty is weak, voters do not depend on their party stalwarts for their information, and most will have their own preferences between the FN, the PS, and abstention and will make up their own minds accordingly. But la consigne de vote is one of the great rituals of French politics, almost as silly as the "endorsements" by defeated candidates in US presidential primaries, so it goes on year after year, a great tradition, as gullet-warming as a good pot au feu.