Peter Duffy writes on the probable fate of the EU constitution at the hands of the French electorate

Ten successive opinion polls have shown that a majority of people say that they intend to vote No in the referendum on the proposed European constitution, with figures ranging from 52 to 56 per cent.

Just a few months ago, polls were showing well over 60 per cent in favour of the constitution. But all this has changed since the left began campaigning in earnest.

The turnaround in public opinion has left the right and the Socialist Party (PS) leadership in a state of panic and disarray.

At first, they attempted to reduce the debate to one of Yes or No to Europe, not the constitution itself. When the first polls indicated a No majority, they and tame TV pundits came out with some patronising explanations.

It was, they said, an anti-government vote or a fear of Turkish membership or, most insulting of all, because ordinary folk didn't understand what was in the treaty.

But now, pollsters are also asking people why they intend to vote No. Three-quarters say that it is because of the contents of the proposed constitution!

This is a tribute to the educational nature of the left campaigns – (the left daily) L'Humanité, for example, has sold over 200,000 copies of the text of the treaty, together with annotated explanations and comments.

On the right, there appears to be a growing resignation that the No vote is likely to win.

In what was supposed to be a keynote speech in parliament last week to relaunch the Yes campaign, only 15 deputies were present to hear Prime Minister Raffarin say that a No victory would not be seen as a vote of no-confidence in his government. Hardly the stuff to mobilise his supporters!

In an earlier rambling and embarrassing speech, Raffarin had said he would feel "immense sadness for his daughter, for young people, if the No won... for my wife, for me, for my daughter, the good answer is a Yes vote."

Nearly as stupid, junior minister Eric Woerth announced that he intends to climb to the top of Mont Blanc with a Yes flag. That's sure to woo them in the factories and offices!

Media biased against No vote

Although the No is now firmly entrenched in opinion polls, it is still by no means certain that it will win on the day.

The entire French press, with the exception of L'Humanité, is in favour of the draft treaty, and there is almost blanket TV support.

The CSA, the TV regulatory body, has announced that party political broadcasts will be allocated on the basis of representation in the European Parliament.

As a result, 84.5 per cent of time will be allocated to supporters of a Yes vote. On the left, only the Communist Party (PCF) will have airtime - just 12 minutes of the 140 minutes available.

Already, PCF leader Marie-George Buffet has offered to give up half of this time to others on the left opposed to the constitution.

Scandal over red flag switch

AS part of its celebration of its century this year, the PS leadership has just published a poster reproducing the very famous photograph taken in 1913 of the then PS leader Jean Jaures speaking to a meeting of workers next to a large red flag. But the PS poster has replaced the red flag with that of the European Union.

Paul Quilles, who is PS deputy for Jaures's former constituency of Carmaux and a partisan of a No vote in the referendum, has written to Hollande to denounce "this scandalous rewriting of history."

Jaures, who was assassinated on the eve of the first world war, was the founder of L'Humanité.

Socialists getting desperate

THE PS leadership finds itself in an even worse position than the ruling UMP. For the latter, the polls at least show that 70 per cent of its supporters intend to vote Yes. But the same polls indicate that 59 per cent of PS supporters say that they will vote No.

Some of the recent PS initiatives in support of the constitution almost beggar belief. A recent issue of the weekly magazine Paris Match - which is read by millions since, in addition to those who buy it, it is found in almost every hairdressers and every dentist's and doctor's waiting room - featured on its front cover a photo of smiling PS leader Francois Hollande and UMP president Nicolas Sarkozy, sitting side by side wearing almost identical pin-striped suits, light blue shirts and dark blue ties.

The caption to the photo was "The Misters YES." Even Hollande's closest political allies could not believe this gaffe at first, believing the picture to be a photomontage.

Chirac's fooled nobody on Bolkestein's 'Hell directive'

CHIRAC'S denunciation of the Bolkestein directive on trade and services - the so-called "directive from Hell" - has fooled no-one.

Even pro-Yes TV and press reporters have pointedly observed that the Chirac/Raffarin government raised not the slightest objection when the directive was formulated in Brussels and that the then UMP commissioner Michel Barnier - now foreign minister - voted in favour, as did PS commissioner Pascal Lamy.

After the intervention of Chirac himself, a planned 100-minute TV interview with EU president Jose Barroso was dropped at the last minute - the government feared that Barroso's enthusiasm for the draft constitution would drive even more into the No camp.

But the government was not able to stop a visit to France by Frits Bolkestein himself. In interviews with journalists and in a bombshell TV appearance, Bolkestein was blunt.

His directive has not been dropped, as PS leader Francois Hollande likes to pretend, nor will it be renegotiated, as Chirac claims. "It has just been put in the fridge until the day after May 29" - the date of the French referendum - Bolkestein told millions of TV viewers.

This column first appeared in the UK daily socialist newspaper The Morning Star as part of Peter Duffy's regular column on French politics, “The French Connection”. To find out more about The Morning Star, go to its website