Misery and malice in town that deserted Jospin to flirt with fringe candidates

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Plougasnou is stunned. The little Breton market town just outside Morlaix did not vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen. Son of a Breton fisherman though he is, fewer than 10 per cent of local voters backed the National Front leader.

The local newspaper, Le Telegramme, was fiercely anxious to advertise this point. "Brittany did not put Le Pen second," it declared, pointing out that he did not even top the poll in his home town of Trinite Sur Mer. But in Plougasnou, villagers know they contributed to his success by scattering their votes between assorted Trotskyite, Communist and Green contenders for the presidency.

A local council employee, busy stripping election posters from a hoarding, summarised the mood. He just raised his eyes heavenward and, drawing a finger across his throat, spat "Le Pen!" with a combination of misery and malice.

Another villager was more analytical. Confessing that he had voted for the Trotskyite Workers' Struggle candidate, Arlette Laguiller, he declared: "I'd have voted for Jospin second time round. I didn't think he could do so badly. It was a pathetic campaign."

The billboard on Rue des Forces Francaises Libres, erected as French law requires to allow every party to promote its candidate, confirmed his version. Le Pen's poster was the only one to have been defaced, but Jospin's was missing in its entirety, a victim of the left factionalism that has left most locals with no candidate they want to support on 5 May.

Outside the co-operative fish factory one worker shrugged resignedly. "Trotskyites talk about salami slicing and dividing the opposition. This time they divided the left. This town voted against unemployment, but it split the vote five ways. Le Pen's not popular, but there's only one of him."

The reaction? Ouest-France, the powerful regional daily, called it stupefaction. It was a fair description of the mood among men queuing to buy newspapers at the Casino supermarket. Suddenly, the humiliating defeat of regional football heroes Lorient by Bordeaux in the League Cup final on Saturday night was irrelevant. The absence of a left candidate in the second round of the presidential election is very hard to take.

Turnout here was above the national average, but too many voters made the same mistake. They assumed there would always be one Gaullist and one Socialist in the final round. So voting for Ms Laguiller, her Trotskyite rival Olivier Besancenot, the orthodox Communist candidate Robert Hue or the Green, Noel Mamère, did not look risky.

Plougasnou serves a hinterland dominated by agriculture, fishing and tourism. It suffers the attendant problems of low wages, seasonal employment and property made expensive by affluent incomers and native Bretons returning from successful careers in Paris to spend their retirement by the sea. Hence local loyalty to a dangerously divided left.

Ouest France was defiant. Now, it declared, there must be a "republican mobilisation animated by democratic values not just to build a dam against the extreme right, but to build the future in a new spirit".

One resident endorsed that, but pointed out that they will have to do it by exercising an unpalatable choice between "the right and the extreme right". Another suggested it might have been better if Le Pen had been killed by a British mine, as his father was during the Second World War.