How a May Day Marcher just might think Macron was ‘The President of the Rich’?
The President’s timing was impeccable. He was Down Under (only the 2nd French President ever to visit Australia) building on 2016’s sale of submarines to Oz and reinforcing the surely-should-be-better-known Paris-Delhi-Canberra ‘strategic axis’ [Geographical note: Greater France spans the Indo-Pacific: La Réunion/Mayotte in the Indian Ocean; Noumea/Wallis and Futuna/French Polynesia in the Pacific].
May Day this year gave us a happenstance of news. Emmanuel Macron proudly announcing a major change of French tax policy to the world’s pre-eminent liberal economy cheerleader magazine (subtle motto: ‘The Capitalist Tool’). What Forbes described as ‘France’s notorious ‘exit tax’ [introduced by ultra-radical President Sarkozy] a 30% hit for entrepreneurs who choose to take money or assets out of France, and thus a tremendous disincentive to start a business there’ was going to be junked.
Meanwhile, back home on May Day
- France’s trades unions celebrated this First Workers Day of the (First) Macron Presidency well and truly apart from each other – some marched (separately), some watched a film (yes really). Despite railway workers, public servants, the retired, students and Air France employees all having been on the streets with their multiple grognes (discontents) there was little evidence of what the CGT was calling for: convergence des luttes (bringing together the ‘struggles’)
- 1200 anarcho-autonomo-Black Bloc casseurs [aka ‘rioters’ who relish giving capitalist symbols a good kicking/petrol bombing/baseball batting] destroyed 1 McDonald’s, 2 car showrooms, several cars and some 30 shops [those thirsty for more on the Black Blocs should look at this, in French, from Les Inrockuptibles]
- Hard left leader of France Unbowed, Mélenchon, kneejerkingly condemned the ultra-right for the Black Bloc violence … correcting himself the next day with a more reflective analysis: ‘Breaking a McDonald’s window is not a revolutionary act’
- Meanwhile, only those who dream of conspiracies could suggest that the reason for the heavily-armed CRS not wading in (as in bygone days) but following the Préfet de Police’s ‘new strategy’ of staying ‘far from the Black Blocs’ is so there would be little talk of 35,000 (police estimates) or 70,000 (CGT estimates) Paris May Day Marchers, but only les casseurs and 100 arrests. [What could President Macron have meant when telling Forbes: ‘I want this country open to disruption’?]
For a President who believes strongly in symbols, the striking image of his revelation of the scrapping of the exit tax in a Forbes interview, published on May Day, shows a stunning disdain for his opponents.
He was Centre. He became Centre-Right. He’s now Right. And he’s going Righter?
‘If 0 is far left and 10 is far right, where would you place Macron on a left-right axis?’ That was the question posed by Cevipof’s Ipsos poll (March 2017) before the Presidential Election. 35% said he was of the centre, 15% saw him as centre-right and 10% centre-left. He was CentreMan: bang in the middle with an average 5.2.
Last November, six months post-election, Macron was identified as having taken rightward strides. His rating on that Left-Right Scale had shifted to 6.0. And now, after a year in office, he’s seen at 6.7. Today, 40% identify him as being on the right, 20% put him centre-right, with but 15% seeing him in the centre. [Do such polls deserve to be treated more cynically? Almost 5% classify Macron today as being on the ‘Far Left’.]
What has a year of hyperactive reform actually produced? Major (cosmetic-ish?) changes to the Labour Law, the end of France’s State of Emergency (after 2 years) and the re-incorporation of many Emergency provisions into the substantive law, taxes suppressed (especially beneficial for the wealthy, much much less so for the retired), cuts in housing and other benefits, and laws on morality in public life. Plus proposals galore (most currently being fought over) regarding the SNCF national railways and its workers, public services, constitutional changes and laws on asylum/immigration.
But, above all, Macron’s election and subsequent actions leads to a conclusion that Politics As Usual has not been restored in any sense. Emmanuel Macron’s political discourse is the only one that’s heard: the old political parties of left and right barely exist. The only exception is the continuing ability of Mélenchon, and his hard left France Unbowed Party, to focus attention on their Oppositionism. There was an example of this on Saturday when their Anti-Macron-Paris-Street-Party [alternatives were available in other towns] got 40,000 (according to both the police and the new independent analysis conducted by a dozen not-wholly-capitalist-running-dog-newspapers) or 160,000 (according to France Unbowed) out on Paris’s streets.
President Macron is judged negatively for most tangible issues affecting people’s lives. Those polled say he’s going in the wrong direction (ie Rightwards) on:
- reducing social inequality (78%)
- improving purchasing power (78%)
- making the health system better (72%)
- safeguarding the retirement system (70%)
Some 60% think the President’s policies are going in the right direction on the more ethereal ‘foreign policy’/help to business/EU/the fight against terrorism.
All of which leads a remarkable 76% agreeing that Macron’s policies ‘benefit, above all, upper income groups’, with only 16% that they benefit everybody. Less than 1 in 10 believes that the middle class and the poor have benefited. And barely 1 in 8 agrees with the proposition that the President ‘really understands the problems of people like us’.
Smiling disarmingly and winking embarrassingly
Harvard’s Arthur Goldhammer has a long (and ever-readable) piece on President Macron in Foreign Policy (Goldhammer claims no responsibility for the come-on title ‘Macron’s Centrism Is Coming Apart at the Seams’). The opening of his article is a useful reminder of where this President once was:
‘As a candidate for the French presidency in 2017, Emmanuel Macron frequently boasted that he was ‘neither right nor left’, championing his candidacy as a third way. He then amended this self-description to ‘both right and left’. In the run-up to round one of the elections, Macron even gave a class of elementary school students a charming lesson in the difference: the right stood for liberty, he said with a disarming smile, while the left championed equality. Promising to bridge the gap between the two, he would be the candidate of fraternity. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: It was a neat hat trick for the former philosophy student, who managed to beguile the roomful of schoolchildren with his Hegelian synthesis of France’s contentious revolutionary past.’
For anyone wishing to see the reality of that ‘disarming smile’, it’s here
It really is charming … and should rightly be contrasted with that considerably less winning wink strangely still in use today:
To those who may need persuading that The President’s still a-winking, a 5 star Macron wink emblazons that Foreign Policy article.
The monthly Ifop poll for Paris Match showed President Macron holding steady (for the 3rd consecutive month) with 55% disapproval and 45% approval (worryingly, from his point of view, only 12% totally approve while 24% totally disapprove).
2 in 3 think he defends France’s interests well overseas, half think he’s got a vision for France’s future, but less than 1 in 3 think he’s close to what concerns the French.
Which Party best represents the opposition to President Macron?
- France Unbowed (Mélenchon’s hard left Party) 35%
- Les Républicains (Wauquiez’s right-wing Party) 27%
- Front National 26% (its highest score since May 2017’s 28%)
- Socialists 11%
Further, the enormous Sciences Po University (Cevipof) poll by Ipsos supports the conclusion that it’s still ‘Steady as he goes’ for the President, with the overall assessment a year after his Election the same 45% positive/55% negative [a sharp difference from the Ifop poll being that a mere 4% are very positive, with 16% very negative.]
If he’s bovvered, he may draw comfort in the near-zero support for any competitor. 14% of those polled said Mélenchon would do better, 14% said Le Pen, 8% said Wauquiez and the poll managed to find 4% prepared to punt for the near-anonymous Socialist, Faure. But those minimal levels of support were more than outweighed by the 60% who said Le Pen would do worse, 57% who were anti-Mélenchon and 52% anti-Wauquiez.
But it’s the reaction to Macron’s reforms that may leave the most lasting damage:
- too many reforms – say 49%
- he and his Government are too authoritarian – say 55%
Jupiter’s dead. Vive Napoleon.
When Macron’s campaign started much was made of its participative elements. All those marcheurs who joined En Marche! went from door to door to find out what people thought ailed France, and what solutions should be adopted. There was a lengthy synthesis of ideas and the programme was ‘said’ to be the product thereof.
We’ve recently been given a near-repeat of the process. For over a month, there’s been a grande marche pour l’Europe. Knocking on 100,000 doors is to be the way in which the policies of the President’s Party, La République en Marche, will be created for May 2019’s Euro-Elections. Open questions would be asked, eg ‘If I say ‘Europe’ to you, what do you think of?’ and ‘What doesn’t work about Europe?’ A fine example of participative democracy: a challenge for a Europhile Party in a context where well over half the nation voted for strongly Eurosceptic Presidential candidates a year ago.
But political analyst Jérome Fourquet sees participative democracy (despite its Euro-Election re-use) as having been definitively put to one side. He characterises the President’s politics as ‘technocratic Bonapartism’. ‘Macron is convinced’, said Fourquet that France must be totally transformed so as to keep its place in the global economic competition and that these changes must be carried through with energy and determination … There’s no time to lose. Burdensome and lengthy discussions and negotiations have to be avoided’.
A Macron adviser reminds us, deep in a 2-page Le Monde spread, of the Napoleonic trope ‘Decide slowly, act swiftly’, telling us that ‘Macron functions exactly like that’.
Epilogue: Woe is me (aka ‘Oops’)
Sorry. I was utterly fooled by brilliant comic Mrs Betty Bowers and her gone-viral tweet. Jane Goodall never did, alas, say anything about ‘ageing gorillas’ grooming younger rivals so as to humiliate them. What’s more, Goodall’s speciality was chimps, not gorillas.
Kudos to Financial Times‘s Andrew Hill who got this directly from the Jane Goodall Institute. Goodall did tell The Atlantic (during the 2016 campaign) that ‘the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals’; but Betty Bowers’s fine, witty fiction was extrapolated comic freedom of expression.
AgingGorillagate? Nah. Just more fake gorilla news. Sorry. Would that it had been true.
As a coda, why not read Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker – though he’s obviously also fallen prey to the same gorilla meme. He explains Macron’s bemused expression during Dandruffgate as just possibly having been down to the difficulty in translating ‘dandruff’.