FRANCE HAS elected “centrist” candidate Macron as its new President. Macron won 66.06% of the vote and Marine Le Pen won 33.94%. Now all it needs to do is to find out where the political centre is.
Macron is a new force on the political scene in France. He was well placed to pick up votes from an electorate driven to the brink of apathy by the experience of seeing politician after politician fail to deliver on their election promises. Macron capitalised on that alienation. He had been a minister in Francois Hollande’s Government but had resigned, disagreeing with the political direction (or lack of it?) the Government was taking. A year ago he set up a new “movement” – En Marche! – which claimed it was neither left nor right but in the centre of French politics.
There are parallels, then, with the USA – where Donald Trump claimed that he represented a break from the traditional parties. However, although Macron has his fair share of charisma, his victory owed much to the misfortunes which befell his opponents. The incumbent Socialist Party President, Hollande, was anything but socialist and spent most of his term in office hiding in the presidential palace. Having promised vaguely socialist policies, he lost faith in them and couldn’t cope with the backlash against his various attempts at imposing anti-austerity measures.
The Socialist Party candidate this time round, Benoit Hamon, was the surprise choice of his party: he was on the left of it, and was constantly rubbished by the press (sound familiar?). The surge of indifference to President Hollande should have benefitted the leading challenger of the right, Franҫois Fillon – but Fillon’s chances were scuppered when a scandal broke about him having “employed” members of his family on the public payroll.
Macron’s vote in the second round run-off also benefitted from the “anyone but Le Pen” factor: all kinds of people voted for him to make sure that Marine Le Pen, candidate of the Front National (FN), was not elected. In 2002, the FN reached the second round for the first time. Their candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, united the right and left against him, and his opponent (Jacques Chirac) won by a landslide.
This time, many on the left did not vote or spoiled their ballot papers, arguing that Macron was no better than the FN’s Marine Le Pen. The anti-Le Pen was significantly smaller this time, but it was still there. Twelve million French voters did not vote, and there was a record number of spoiled ballot papers – 4.2 million. That’s more than the number of people who actually voted for Le Pen (10.7 million).
The FN vote was depressed by the fact that although they still offered the same racist and reactionary easy answers, their candidate, Marine Le Pen (Jean-Marie’s daughter), messed it up. She had worked hard to get the media exposure a presidential candidacy brings, but when people saw her, they were not impressed. She came across as a shouty woman who knew what she was against more than she knew what she was for. Nonetheless, 10.7 million votes for the far right is still very worrying, and the French left must find an alternative agenda which challenges that threat.
The policies of En Marche! – insofar as they have any other than being “different” – were drawn up on the basis of an opinion polling exercise. That means they are popular – but does not necessarily form a coherent basis for Government. It’s a bit like putting the Lib-Dems in charge.
Macron is not Donald Trump Mark II. However, he was a populist candidate and there is every chance he will be a populist president, claiming to be “above” politics while carrying out the most political job in the land. The far right continue to pose a significant danger, which may yet put Macron under severe pressure – or put the Front National (FN) on the subs bench, ready to come in and seize power if Macron messes up and fails to deliver.