King of the Gods? King of the French?

Elections? What elections?

It has to be said: it’s all rather odd.

  • The Incredibly Disappearing Traditional Parties (socialists and conservatives alike) are beset by self-doubt, absence of leadership and the arrival of lonely years in the wilderness (a few, happy few, may be ‘lucky’ enough to be re-elected)
  • There’s only one serious political discussion: should the President be given a majority in the National Assembly? And even if the direct answer to that question seems to be less-than-certain, every few days, a new poll appears showing an ever-larger overall majority for the President’s La République en Marche party [LREM].
  • And few people are talking national politics, because it’s all local now – which may have contributed an extra frisson to The Continuing Ferrand Affair in the absence of anything more solid to write about.

But at least one seriously ‘political’ thing has happened this very weekend. French expats have voting already (a week ahead of everyone else) in their 11 constituencies around the world. Results will be declared on Monday 5 June, so the Round 2 vote for these 11 seats can be held on the same day as the rest of France (18 June).

The President believes

Macron’s interview given to Le 1 (way back in July 2015) is a serious read for francophone philosophers [thanks to Le Monde‘s Fressoz for this reference]. At the time of this interview, Macron was still Hollande’s Minister for the Economy, only forming his En Marche movement 9 months later.

Macron replied to the question ‘Is democracy necessarily a disappointment?’ saying: ‘Democracy is always incomplete, because it’s never self-sufficient. There’s an element missing from the democratic process and its operation. In the French political system, it’s the figure of the King which is absent: I fundamentally believe that the French people didn’t want him dead. [My emphasis] The Terror [the period during the French Revolution when Robespierre led the ‘Committee of Public Safety’ and 17,000 death sentences were passed] increased an emotional, collective void in the imagination: the King was no longer there! They then attempted – largely during the Napoleonic and Gaullist periods – to fill the void by putting other figures there. But, at other times, French democracy hasn’t filled the gap. Since General de Gaulle, there’ve been endless questions about the Presidential figurehead: normalising the Presidential function has once again placed an empty seat at the heart of political life. Nevertheless, the President of the Republic is expected to fill that function: everything’s built on that misunderstanding.’

In a more recent interview (in French) with Challenges (October 2016) Macron explained his views on then-President Hollande’s attempt to be a ‘normal’ President. [Hollande had said that was his aim. Sarkozy’s earlier hyperactive and bling-ridden Presidency had quickly turned people off.]

Asked what type of President is able to personify and bring the country together, Macron replied that ‘Hollande does not believe in a ‘Jupiterian President’ … I myself don’t believe in a “normal” President. The French people don’t want that. In fact such a concept destabilises them, makes them feel insecure. For me, the Presidential function in a contemporary, democratic France must be exercised by someone who – without thinking they are the source of everything – must lead society by the force of their convictions and actions and give a clear sense to their approach.’

What others say about President Macron

Fourquet (head of Ifop pollsters, quoted in FT) “A month ago, despite [Macron’s] victory, I was sceptical of his chances of getting a Parliamentary majority. Now this is totally feasible. We’re witnessing a historic shake-up of the French political scene … More and more people who voted for Macron by default in the 2nd Round, to bar Le Pen from power, are now saying ‘OK let’s give him a chance’.”

Rouban (Sciences Po professor) : ‘Macron is reactivating the French Presidency – after Hollande’s inability to embody the role, it is as thought the French are rediscovering this core institution of the Fifth Republic’.

What’s Macron done that’s ‘Presidential’?

  • A brilliant victory ceremony – with that slow walk across the Louvre
  • Went straight to see wounded soldiers with press excluded
  • Off to Mali to visit French troops
  • Met Merkel 3 times in less than a fortnight and seemingly did well in re-starting the idea that the EU has a dual-headed leadership
  • ‘My handshake with [Trump] – it wasn’t innocent. It’s not the alpha and the omega of politics but a moment of truth’ (Guardian plus JDD in French)
  • Veering away from Trump to greet Merkel/others first – have a look at Macron’s brilliant own tweet with a long, clear (from the rear) veer view [you will appreciate that Macron has arrived last/late for the NATO meeting … that’s, seemingly, in line with the historic tradition for French leaders at NATO meetings]
  • Handling Putin Presidentially by announcing in advance he would be ‘pragmatic and demanding’: Macron, at the Palace of Versailles post-Putin chat press conference, kept repeating his insistence on France’s absolute red line on Syrian chemical weapon use … and the more he repeated it, the more sour-faced Putin became … the Versailles Gallery of Battles was an apposite place for the press conference, with its giant paintings celebrating French military victories – eg Napoleon’s rout of the Russians at Austerlitz (1805) and Friedland (1807)
  • Furious at a Russian journalist who asked why Sputnik/RT ‘journalists’ had been banned from Macron’s campaign HQ – because they’re ‘propagandists’ not journalists he replied (see point 5 under the attached ‘7 Macho Macron Moments‘ – with English subtitles)
It’s ‘Patriotic Loan’ time for the Ultra-Right
Marine Le Pen announced the establishment of a Patriotic Begging-Bowl to ‘Defend the French’ and ‘Protect France’. Times are tough. She says neither French nor foreign banks will lend money to the Front National for the Legislative Elections.
Appealing to 11 million Le Pen voters the Front National say they will offer ‘better financial terms than lots of investments’ plus ‘exclusive privileges’, depending on the size of your contribution. Perhaps a meal with Herself? [Long spoon recommended]
Will Olympian thunderbolts destroy two once-powerful political forces?
1. Goodbye Old Left
The Socialists are self-destructing. Some remaining Lefties – with faint hopes of survival – have decided their best course of action is … sauve qui peut.
This is done by removing from campaign literature all Boring Old Colours (red and green – so last year) and replacing them with Macronesque light blue. And rather than references to ‘the Socialist Party’ they’re instead ‘Candidate for the Presidential majority with Emmanuel Macron’ or ‘With Emmanuel Macron for a progressive majority’. Some 15 (ex-)’Socialist’ candidates (including 2 ex-Ministers) have adopted this style. In exchange for this liberal (sic) approach to Party Loyalty (so last year) there’s no Macronian LREM standing against them … but they’d better watch out for the Hard Left.
This leaves Grand Old Socialists like Martine Aubry (Mayor of Lille) lamenting: ‘I’m 66 years old. I have the impression that everything I’ve done in my life is ruined and shattered. Everything I believe in … Having the Socialist party label means you’re thrown away with the rest of them.’
2. Goodbye Old Right
Les Républicains are finding life complicated too, as their chances of getting a majority of seats becomes daily less likely. The hard(er) right in their Party had been holding out for confrontation with Macron at all costs. Now they’re shocked to discover that toughie Baroin, the man in charge of the Républicains campaign for the Legislative Elections [he was nearly Prime Minister for at least 3 people, being Sarkozy, then Fillon and finally he volunteered to be Macron’s PM] has turned out damp, if not downright wet.
Out of a clear blue sky this week, Baroin announced the junking of a shibboleth of The Right. For years, under the 5th Republic, both conservative and socialist Parties had supported the strategy (the left were far more serious about it than the right) of uniting in a ‘republican front’ against the candidacy of the Front National, urging voters to support the candidate most likely to win against the Front National, with the latter being seen and identified as non-republican. The high-point of this strategy was when the nation united behind President Chirac to defeat Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002.
However, since 2011, the right has developed a different policy, ‘ni FN ni PS’ [neither Front National nor Socialist Party, ie the right was officially indifferent to the election of a Front National candidate – they were equally bad]. This was a bone of contention between liberals and conservatives. And then Baroin’s shock announcement. ‘Our combat has always been against the extremes’ he said. In these Legislative Elections if there’s a chance of the Front National winning, the Républicains/Socialists/LREM will respectively stand down to give the lead ‘republican’ party the best chance of winning.
Le Pen responded that this was ‘yet another confirmation of what we’ve been saying for weeks.  The Républicain party does not oppose M. Macron, it’s rather a jump seat for joining the Presidential majority’.
Out on the streets
One week before Election Day Round 1 and the local LREM candidate had finally decided to venture out of town. But lots of militants were to be espied from both LREM and the Républicains. The latter must be worried sick about their prospects and the powerful Macron Machine. Today they were handing out  a 12 page A4 booklet: it includes Député Morange’s 21 constituency-wide achievements. We also learn some vital facts of his last 5 years as Député: he has asked no less than 3 oral questions [Yes in 5 years] and 93 written questions.
The Socialists were out taking the air today. As also were the rather strange Christian Democrats (whose email address is pourlamourdelafrance): their N° 1 legislative undertaking is to ‘Protect the family and repeal the gay marriage law’ and later on to ‘confirm France’s Christian roots in the Constitution’ [enough said about them].
Opinion polls

OpinionWay is the most recent: polled 2000 people 30 May/1 June

  • La République en Marche (President’s party) and MoDem (centre) 335-355
  • Républicains (Right) 145-165
  • Socialists 20-35 [all-time historic rock-bottom low]
  • Unbowed France (Mélenchon) 24-31
  • Front National 7-17

BUT translating an opinion poll into a guesstimate of seats won in the National Assembly is evidently much more to do with art than science. Assumptions on turnout determine a view on how many candidates getting over 12.5% of registered electors will get through to the 2nd Round. If there’s a 60% turnout next Sunday, then candidates will need to get over 20% of the vote to make the 2nd Round.

Le Monde points out that in 1997 the Socialists got 43.1% of the Round 1 vote and ended up with 319 Députés. 5 years later the Right got 43.3% of the vote and had 385 seats.

Hence within the last week, we have had predictions of LREM seats as widely varied as:

  • 320-350 (Kantar-Sofres – LREM 31%)
  • 335-355 (OpinionWay – LREM 29%)
  • 395-425 (Ipsos – LREM 31%)

An overall majority in the National Assembly is 289 seats.

Ferrand Affair (front page news for several days even if the wrap-up finale here)

Brest’s judicial authorities announced that – after analysis of the issues from ‘different organs of the press’ – they’d opened a ‘preliminary enquiry’ into Mr Ferrand’s activities. Said authorities will ‘collect all the information necessary for a complete analysis of the facts and to determine whether or not these could constitute a criminal offence’

A reminder that Candidate Macron promised to restore political ‘morals’ and that his Government’s very first piece of proposed legislation is, as promised (even if late), a draft Law on the subject. Against this background, the timing of revelations that Macron’s Number One Supporter (Ferrand, Minister for Territorial Cohesion) had been involved in a multiplicity of (morally) rather questionable business dealings which may have profited his ‘companion’ (and his ex-wife) while he bossed a not-for-profit Breton insurance fund is either unfortunate, or possibly careless.

Prime Minister Philippe has endlessly repeated:

  • Ferrand’s innocent till proved guilty … and there’s no hint of any charge
  • were he charged, Ferrand would resign as Minister immediately
  • yes, the timing of our publication of the first draft law of this Government on ‘The Raising of Standards in Public Life’ might be (in)fortuitous
  • yes, this is exasperating and irritating
  • nothing to see … move on … and keep moving on.

Fellow-Beardy (and Government spokesperson) Castaner described the preliminary enquiry as ‘good news’ allowing everyone to ‘get out of the moral debate at last’.



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