First Things First – 40 TODAY
The Right – direction of travel … rightwards
Seriously Hard Man of The Right, Laurent Wauquiez, has been overwhelmingly (and predictably) elected by the ever-dwindling membership of France’s conservative party (aka Les Républicains in its most recent manifestation) and so become its President. Wauquiez picked up 75% of the votes, with over half the Party membership abstaining. Wauquiez intends this to put him in pole position as The Right’s putative candidate for President come France’s 2022 Presidential Election.
The relatively unimportant vote – nearly a hundred thousand Républicain Party members took part – is put in perspective when it’s pointed out that, a year ago, 4.4 MILLION people (self-declared ‘supporters’) voted in The Right’s Primary to choose their Presidential Candidate. Those were the clever folk who (counter-intuitively?) decided that François Fillon was The One. [That’s the same F. Fillon who, last April, mid-Presidential campaign, demanded a police investigation of Le Canard Enchainé‘s ‘dissemination of false information’ concerning the work-life balance of a certain Mrs Fillon. Said police investigation has now been definitively dropped. That could but lead one to conclude that Mr and Mrs F. may both be a teensy bit closer to having their own collars felt.]
Wauquiez is the true inheritor of Sarkozy’s flame, and then adds some special fire of his own. He appeals to the most fundamentalist elements of The Right, attracting (can that really be the right word?) those errant voters who quit Les Républicains for the Front National of recent years. Wauquiez certainly seems wholly disinterested in conservatives who are ‘moderate’, whether in or out of his Party.
During his campaign Wauquiez claimed he would unite his Party: he repeated those sentiments upon election. But his attempts at unity were quickly overshadowed by a trickle/stream (insert preferred noun) of Républicain unknowns slamming the Party’s door behind them. One person made a much louder door-slam than the rest: Heavyweight Xavier Bertrand, leader of the Hauts-de-France Regional Council said he ‘no longer recognised his political family’ and quit the Party. Bertrand’s timing was minute-perfect. At the very moment Wauquiez was celebrating his accession as Not Very Supreme Républicains Leader on the (commercial) TF1 channel, Bertrand was announcing his departure on public service France 2.
The Centre Right – direction of travel … rightwards
The issue of immigration (‘politically explosive’ said Le Journal de Dimanche) has become The Major Issue. In simple terms it sounds as though President Macron intends his policies to be the very antithesis of those initially adopted by Chancellor Merkel. [Historical Note: Last January, Presidential Candidate E. Macron wrote: ‘Chancellor Merkel and the entire German people have complied with our shared values’ in accepting over a million refugees, ‘they have saved our collective dignity by welcoming distressed refugees, housing them and training them’. What a difference a year makes.]
A new law on asylum and immigration is to emerge next spring. Pending its arrival, though, policies are being urgently re-fashioned. Le Monde‘s headline summed it up (ironically, the day before International Immigrants Day): ‘Macron’s taking the hard line’. Reminding its readers that, during the Presidential Election campaign, Macron had spoken of France’s ‘honour in welcoming refugees’, there’s now, wrote Le Monde, going to be a massive wave of expulsions of those who have not got asylum plus an ‘immigration policy of unprecedented harshness’. Broadly, all economic migrants are to be expelled, and (if possible) prevented from arriving on French soil. As Le Monde wrote: ‘When brutality appears to win out over humanity, the honour of France is at stake’.
Interior Minister Collomb (ex-Socialist and ex-Mayor of Lyon) had been developing a hard line. The President’s given Collomb his backing to going significantly further than previous Governments. Every Departmental Prefect – the State’s representative – has been instructed by the Interior Ministry substantially to increase the number of expulsions, while people staying in Council emergency hostels will be subject to checks.
On Saturday, the Mayors of seven major French cities – 4 Socialists, 2 Républicains (including Bordeaux’s Juppé) and a Green – wrote to Le Monde complaining of the lack of means being made available to them by the State for them to welcome immigrants (‘a serious ethical obligation’). No Governmental response thus far.
This week’s Le Canard Enchainé gets in on the act with its lead story: ‘Presidential gift to immigrants: For Christmas, I invite you to go and look for your crib elsewhere’ [play on words of crécher, slang for to stay/crash and a reference to the Christmas crib]
It’s so serious that one of the Government’s own Deputies, Krimi, asked a long embarrassing question of Collomb in the Assemblée Nationale. She highlighted the awful conditions for immigrants, children abandoned, insufficient monies for welfare organisations. She even said ‘The holding centres [centres de rétention – where people can now be held for 90 rather than 45 days] are becoming detention centres and are unworthy of the Republic’. Worth glancing at the film to see the long faces of Collomb and fellow Ministers … and hearing the applause of Mélenchon’s Unbowed France Deputies. [Political Note: Ms Krimi will have been sent to an LREM re-education camp – indeed she quickly appeared on another channel swallowing her previous frankness.]
And if you want to get really depressed do watch the film on the attached Huffington Post video clip – with English commentary – made by an English person helping at one of the refugees’ camps in Paris. It’s all about refugees’ tents being slashed … by the police? Collomb is ‘doubtful’.
Socialists – direction of travel … going nowhere (slowly)
Although Leftie apparatchiks are about to be moving from their long-term home. At least their employer will be able to give them a bus ticket. The Socialist Party has just agreed to sell its 3400 sq. m. head office in hyper-chic rue de Solferino – where they’ve been since Mitterand was elected President in 1981 – to a shopping centre developer. The price is a jolly €46 million. Every cent will be needed having lost the vast majority of their income following the Socialists’ electoral near wipe-out in this year’s Legislative Elections: overall their annual income tumbles from €28 million to €8 million. Hence their Head Office staff is slashed by over 50%.
[By a delicious political coincidence the Républicains are faced with a similar HQ conundrum. Except that their problem may be still more pressing than their Socialist brethren: the Républicains have €55 millions of debt that first needs sorting. ]
And yet surely the Socialist Party will find its niche somewhere in the social-democrat centre-left? As President Macron pushes through policies that are seen to be increasingly centre-right an ever-larger void appears between Macron and Mélenchon’s Hard Left. Will (can?) the Socialists fill the pretty considerable vacuum? Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (first female Minister of Education) certainly thinks so and has got herself some (helpful ?) publicity from Le Monde for her opening shot in the leadership campaign. Only here in France, surely, would a major political positioning paper by an aspiring politician appear in the launch edition of a New Literary Magazine?
Grogne of the Week (who’s fed up now?)
Apart from Ms Krimi – the sole identifiable head-over-the-parapet LREM Deputy to date – there’s been (says Le Monde) quite a bit of groaning among fellow-LREM Deputies. At least 50 (and maybe as many as 100 of them, ie a third of the LREM Parliamentary cohort) are increasingly dissatisfied with their lot. They’re underpaid (by comparison with their pre-Parliamentary lives), they’re working far too long hours for too little tangible reward, they’re not influencing events. Overall they feel like voting fodder, told which way to vote and told not to speak.
Maybe some will feel even more fed up when they read the details of the wealth of their Ministerial colleagues as published last week by the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life. Almost a quarter of the Government are millionaires. Richest is Labour Minister, Pénicaud, with €7.5 million. She’s closely followed by ex-TV star, ex-Green and much beloved environmental activist (David Attenboroughesque) Hulot, Minister of Ecological Transition and perennially most-popular politican, with wealth of €7.2 million. Though of much more interest than his money were his less-than-ecological 6 motor cars, 1 motor boat, 1 motor bike … and an electric scooter.
What the President did (or will do) next
Tomorrow he’s off to Niger to meet French troops, where everyone will doubtless be proud of France having been nominated by The Economist as their Country of the Year: the jour de gloire has indeed arrivé.
Emmanuel Macron will present his New Year’s greetings to the French people on TV on New Year’s Eve – as Presidents have always done – but PR people are working on innovative and surprising ways for that to be done. [And, just to mention, the Elysée’s clarified matters: the President didn’t go to the glorious Chateau de Chambord (home of Renaissance monarchs) to celebrate his 40th birthday, but rather for an early familial Christmas celebration – full tariffs (for those wishing to indulge in Seasonal Politics of Envy) given to you courtesy of Le Figaro (in French).
January’s always previously been the month when Presidents delivered hand-crafted individually-focussed New Year Messages to endless groups of people. Advisers have let it be known that that’s all a-changing … clichéd Messages are Out, lots of Action and comparatively few Words are In.
Looking further ahead we can expect Action over the coming months on:
- social reforms in apprenticeships, work training, unemployment benefits and reform of the civil service
- asylum and immigration
- constitutional reform – eg reduction in number of Deputies and a limitation of 3 terms of office (a sort of Three Wins And You’re Out) for those elected to any office (apart from communes with less than 3500 voters … c. 90% of all communes)
- the final decision on the much fought-over replacement of Nantes Airport, which should have opened in 2017 … but which hasn’t even begun
- a deeply unpopular speed reduction from 90 to 80km/hour on all national roads
- Corsica – now it’s overwhelmingly voted nationalist in recent Elections demands for much greater autonomy will need to be reconciled with France – Indivisible Nation
- public service television (during last week’s ‘stroll around the Elysée’ being interviewed by public service broadcaster France 2, Macron rhetorically (?) asked ‘What’s the justification for the taxpayer putting money into France Télévision and not [commercial] TF1?)
Hard-Left: direction of travel … stirring up apathy
Hard-Left Mélenchon has once again felt himself slighted by a TV show of which he was the subject. He got a few things off his chest in his lengthy, ie 7000 French words, post.
As excellent commentator Goldhammer wrote, Mélenchon’s ‘blog and press reviews … are more arduous exercises. Written down, Mélenchon’s volubility passes less easily. One tires of reading him, whereas listening to him is like sitting down for an apéro with an amusing friend rather to one’s left politically but still diverting to hear.’
The Ultra-Right: direction of travel … downwards
Adding to the Front National’s lengthening woes, the police enquiry into fraudulent employment of Euro-staff by Mme Le Pen and several of her fellow FN Euro-MPs [FN Euro-Parliamentary employees worked for the Front National, at the illegal expense of EU funds] has been expanded to investigate the Front National Party itself.
In other Euro-Parliamentary matters, Mme Le Pen announced she won’t lead the FN’s candidates list for the 2019 Euro-Elections. Last time around the FN won a third of France’s Euro-seats (24 out of 75). Possibly linked to President Macron’s decision to make the next Euro-Elections a national debate – through having a single national candidates’ list, rather than regional lists – Mme Le Pen has decided to remain a Deputy in the National Assembly. This decision also avoids a tricky future bye-election for her seat, unlikely to be retained by the FN in current circumstances.
When you’re down you really can go a long way down. The Front National’s doing so badly even France’s Official State TV Stations are said to be having a go. And the FN’s just not taking it. They’ve complained to the TV Regulator that the FN and their 11 million voters – who finance public television through the equivalent of the Licence Fee – are being discriminated against. The FN allege they got a mere 20 minutes’ public TV exposure in September … 5 times less than the Républicains and 4 times less than Mélenchon’s Hard Lefties of Unbowed France. ‘Can France still be viewed as a democracy’, whinged the Front National ‘if … a leading Opposition Party is banished from public service broadcasting?’ [At least 2015’s FN boast is well buried: even the FN now understand they’re a long way from being ‘France’s Leading Party’.]
Indeed the FN is going so far down that ‘fellow’ Euro-Ultra-Right Parties find that the FN currently emits A Putrescent Smell of Fetid Failure and Frexitism. [Le Pen in fact claims the FN’s not ‘anti-European’ but ‘alter-European’. No idea what it’s supposed to convey.] Last week-end the ‘Congress of the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Liberties’ was held in Vienna, all too appropriate a venue today for a Pan-European Ultra-Right Rally. Regrettably for the FN, Austria’s FPO – riding high on its entering Government and getting the Foreign, Defence and Interior Ministers, as well as the Vice-Chancellor – may well be saying auf wiedersehn afore long, while even Germany’s ‘Alternative’ AfD don’t want to come and play Ultra-Right games with the FN.
As 2017 fades away, the President and Prime Minister have each won a lot more support. They’re judged ‘competent’ and ‘dynamic’. They’ve returned from the undead. This is unprecedented for France’s Presidents: in the past, once support for the President had faded, they remained down thereafter. But Macron’s continuing to carry through his programme, as well as being effective on the international stage, seems to be persuading punters to stick with the devil they think they know.
Odoxa finds that:
- 54% think Macron’s a ‘good President’ (+9 points) – autumn’s new Labour Law problems (when 56% thought he wasn’t good) seem behind him; he’s got 9 points more support on the left and no less than 15 points more on the right
- 57% think Philippe is a ‘good P.M.’ (+11 points)
- [Maybe this good news was all just an Xmas cracker joke since those polled also saw Sarko as France’s 2nd most popular politician (excluding President and PM) – among conservatives, he’s 25 points ahead of Wauquiez in popularity]
- Mélenchon still has support extending well beyond the Hard Left: 38% say he’s the best opposition to Macron, with Wauquiez and Le Pen each on 24%
A slightly bewildering poll was published by IFOP. People were asked about ‘voting intentions’ in the context of the 2019 European Elections. Interestingly, that’s almost the only way – in a Presidential system – to get people to think about their support for political parties broadly untramelled by thoughts of individuals who may be Presidential candidates. Voters were asked which of 13 Party lists people would vote for if the Euro-Elections were now. In descending order:
- La République en Marche (Macron’s Party)/MoDem – 26%
- Front National – 17%
- Unbowed France (Hard Left/Mélenchon) – 14%
- Républicains – 12%
- Socialist Party – 8%
- The remaining 8 lists – 23%
BVA‘s poll yesterday confirmed Macron’s upward curve, gaining 6 points in a month; with 52% having a good opinion of him. He’s praised for being pro-active, determined, dynamic and efficient, for respecting campaign promises and carrying out reforms. Socialists (who they nowadays?) like him more and more; however the far left is the group that least supports Macron. And what would you say about the fact that 35% of the FN support Macron … up 14 points since last month?
Season’s Greetings to one and all: see you again in 2018, I hope.