And this year’s lucky winners are … THE HYPER-RICH [and it’s true next year too]

Who’d like to be a millionaire?

That ‘President of the Rich’ epithet is increasingly difficult for Emmanuel Macron to shake off. Winners and losers emerge from any set of tax changes. But research by the independent Institut des Politiques Publiques shows bad Governmental choices.

The graph below is worth quite a few words. The overall impact of President Macron’s first 2 budgets on people’s disposable incomes means that by end-2019:

  • the 20% least well off households will lose up to 1% disposable income because of the near-freeze on benefits and the increase in cigarettes/energy costs
  • most of the middle classes will gain up to 1% because of local property tax changes
  • 19% of the upper middle class (including The Rich Retired) will lose up to 1% because they don’t benefit from the local property tax change
  • BUT THE VERY WEALTHIEST 1% WILL WALLOW IN MUCH INCREASED DISPOSABLE INCOME FROM WEALTH TAX ABOLITION. THEIR DISPOSABLE INCOME INCREASES BY SIX PER CENT

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The President didn’t have to abolish the wealth tax and replace it with a mansion tax. The money Government saved from that generous gift to the seriously-rich could have been diverted to the 20% most worse off and Macron would surely have had some chance of avoiding that ‘President of the Rich’ epithet which is crushing him slowly.

Le Pen … again

‘She’s back!’ wrote The Economist. ‘Less than 18 months ago Marine le Pen was beaten and exhausted. She had lost the French presidential run-off to Emmanuel Macron, after a wild-eyed debate performance that left her fans aghast. Her leadership of the National Front, a party of blood-and-soil populists, was strained, and she was said to be depressed.’

But depression has been banished. She’s up for the fight. She and her Ultra-Right fellow-travellers are, in a sense, on the march. They’re preparing their assault on the European Parliament in next May’s Euro-Elections. And leading for France, in this ever-larger group of Ultra-Nationalists, is Le Pen.

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Copyright Facebook Matteo Salvini

Le Pen may have had something of a cold, lonely summer … but her return to the headlines was sealed with a love-in chez Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy PM/Interior Minister [Salvini’s most recent populist attack is on ‘little ethnic shops’ which, he says, should close by 9pm since they’re ‘meeting places for drunkards, pushers, hell-raisers’].

First an update on some difficulties Le Pen and her party face. They are variously pursued by judges in relation to a variety of matters

  • in 2015, after tweeting several pictures of Daesh atrocities, Le Pen was charged with distributing images which ‘incite terrorism … or seriously harm human dignity’ (an offence with a maximum 3 year prison sentence); there’s a stand-off regarding the judge’s demand that she undergoes psychiatric tests … plus there’s another legal problem resulting from her having tweeted a Court document about that psychiatric test demand: ‘This judicial harassment is becoming terrifying’ she tweeted on Friday
  • last July, French judges blocked payment to her Party of its first tranche of political subsidy (€2M) to be paid because of the Front National’s last electoral performance; the judges were following up on the Euro-Parliamentary Watchdog’s investigation into fake employment, by the Front National, involving 17 Deputies and 40 assistants who were supposed to work on Euro-Parliament matters, but actually worked on French Front National issues for 8 years; in September, €1M subsidy was unblocked by the Court of Appeal which, with €650K the Party received in donations, should prevent what Le Pen called ‘the death’ of her Party
  • the former Front National Party is also threatened by enquiries into the financing of its activities during the 2012, 2014 and 2015 Elections
  • the French judges’ enquiry into the Front National’s FakeEuro-ParliamentaryJobsGate has progressed; on Friday, Le Pen was confronted by considerably more heavyweight charges; her previous ‘breach of trust’ charge (max. 3 years prison/€375K fine) was bigged up by the judges to a charge of ’embezzlement of public monies’, which carries a maximum 10 years’ prison and €1M fine plus ineligibility for election for max. 10 years.

Deeply unpleasant Steve Bannon (Breitbart News founder/ex-Trump Chief Strategist) is setting up offices in Brussels for ‘The Movement’. This will promote Ultra-Right populism in Europe. It will try to help harmonise the activities of Ultra-Right EuroPopulist Parties, which variously seek more national sovereignty, more border and migration control and, above all, fight against anything they call radical Islam.

Salvini’s League has already joined The Movement. But Le Pen has wavered. On Monday, at a joint press conference with Salvini, she said ‘Bannon doesn’t come from a European country, he’s American … We alone will structure the political force to emerge from the European Elections. We attach importance to our liberty and our sovereignty.’

Bannon was apparently upset by this dismissal from the woman who’d invited him to address the Front National’s Congress just last March. What could have gone so awry in 7 months? Bannon rushed from London to Paris on Thursday. And, by Friday (just before she spent time with the judges), Le Pen was able to issue a statement saying she was now satisfied: ‘[Bannon] unambiguously confirmed he doesn’t intend to intervene in Europe politically. He’s creating a think tank to carry out research … and organise meetings on important subjects giving rise to common preoccupations … unrestrained globalisation, the financialisation of the economy, migrants’. She concluded by declaring The Movement to be ‘an extremely interesting project’.

And in those three ‘important subjects’ we see the crystallisation of Le Pen’s dilemma. Her core voters want her to talk all about migrants, and nothing but migrants. But to have a hope of broadening her appeal she needs to raise those other subjects.

‘Don’t stop at a crossroads. Descartes wrote in Méditations‘ that when you’re in the middle of the forest you have to choose a path and stick to it.’ (President Macron)

The President went on: ‘Of course you have to explain to everyone where you’re heading and why it’s being done, go along with anyone who doesn’t know the way or who stumbles on a rock. But you don’t change the path. Turn back on yourself, that’s a certain way to get lost.’

All very philosophical. Not necessarily the usual literary metaphor your average Head of State employs. But then President Macron had just spent four days dodging cyclones and earthquakes in the French Antilles. He’d also had several long conversations with people as part of his new approach providing practical answers to daily problems. ‘I’ll continue being myself’, he said, ‘answering people in a really direct manner.’

And now, aboard Cotam 0001 (Air Force 1 – version française) Emmanuel Macron was revealing all(-ish) in a 12,000-metre-high exclusive chat with Le Monde. Perhaps it’s exactly the high-flown (!) stuff to be expected from someone who’d just addressed the Security Council, and got ‘crowned’ co-Champion of the Earth.

But back to that philosophical forest. Now I’m no Descartes-ian. Far from it. Yet ‘satiable curiosity led me to try tracking down this Presidential musing. Something relevant was to be found in Discours de la Méthode (not Méditations) Descartes’s 1637 text where cogito, ergo sum first appeared (and was sent off to the Dictionary of Quotations).

In his Discours, Descartes is writing about how he wants to be ‘firm and resolute in his actions … in the same way that travellers in a forest have to avoid wandering around in every direction, sometimes going one way, then the other … but they should always walk straight towards one side … in that way [the travellers] will reach the end [of the forest] somewhere, which is probably better than being in the middle of the forest.’

Some points may need to be highlighted about these travellers:

  • importantly, Descartes tells us they’re actually lost in that forest. So does Macron see that’s where France is today? Lost? And, if so, who brought France there? President Macron’s been there for 17 months – more than a quarter of his mandate
  • when we’re finally out of the forest – and it’s difficult to discern if we’re getting straight there – does Macron have any idea where France will actually then be
  • finally, Descartes doesn’t entirely fill one with confidence that being out of the forest is definitively better than wandering around in the middle of it.

Just saying. But enough of my terrestrial philosophising. Back to the President in the sky.

The front page headline on Le Monde‘s story was what may be an unlikely piece of Presidential self-analysis: ‘I observe, I listen, I hear.’ Macron was to be found in humble pie mode. He wanted to get closer to the French people: ‘I’ve said I’m not perfect. Certain things have to be adjusted, they must be explained in a different way because if they’re not understood by the people , then that’s our fault.’

He went on: ‘If I was dismissive then I wouldn’t go and talk to people. When you’re President it’s so easy not to talk to people, to stick to shaking hands, wishing people good day … By speaking to someone who addresses me, I’m respecting them … [As for] those little phrases [eg ‘cross the road to find a job’] that’s all to do with social media and non-stop news channels … they want to find the phrase which shocks, which provokes controversy … I’m trying to convince my fellow-citizens, that’s talking honestly … it’s with them, not against them … It’s not dismissive of them, it’s the very opposite … I believe in the democratic mandate. My mission (sic) is supported by my mandate. I was elected to carry out my mission, it’s my duty to perform it and this mandate is for five years to respond to a demand, an impatience, an unhappiness.’

And then Emmanuel Macron flew slap bang into the turbulence of his ever-continuing Series of Unfortunate Events.

Return of the Prodigal

Ex-Interior Minister Collomb won a surreal mano a mano with President Macron hands down. Collomb learnt his politics running Lyon, as its Mayor, for 16 years: that made him a consummate politician -.

Collomb first announced his intention to resign in an interview with weekly l’Express. He said he’d quit after next May’s Euro-Elections, return to Lyon and fight the 2020 municipal Elections to become Lyon’s Mayor again. He then decided to accelerate the process. In a series of interviews with conservative daily Le Figaro, he said he was resigning, and carried on trying to resign until, finally, the President gave in.

Why was Emmanuel Macron so reluctant to accept that Collomb was off and away? The President always wishes to be seen as what’s described as maître des horloges (‘master of the clocks’, signifying the politician’s desire to (appear to) be in control of events) but here Macron was anything but.

Collomb went straight back to Lyon where he was greeted with underwhelmingly heartfelt warmth. Signing in to a local Lyon TV station before one of a long round of self-promotional interviews, Collomb self-described as the ‘prodigal son’ returning to Lyon. Not sure if the father who was so pleased to see the prodigal return has yet been identified. Collomb probably believes it’s The Lyon Voter. We’ll see. Anyway, he’s another ‘character’ who will not be the concern of this blog for many months to come.

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Rembrandt ‘Return of the Prodigal’ Hermitage Museum

Shuffle to the left, Shuffle to the right

Once Collomb self-imploded, stalwart Prime Minister Philippe took Collomb’s place as Acting Interior Minister. Doing his own job-share: mostly PM by day and often Interior Minister (doing a round of underfunded police stations) at night.

Would the Ministerial re-shuffle simply consist if one new name to take the Ministry of the Interior? Or would there be a much more consequent re-shuffle, involving a clear-out of a lot of not-so-old (but possibly somewhat dead) wood? The Prime Minister was said to be behind attempts to bring about the latter … so as to have a few more centre-right political chums around the Government table to play with.

But it seems that the practical complications of gender equality, political balance, politicians/members of civil society/and, maybe, the requirements of the body that investigates the pasts of people about to become Ministers have proved difficult to crack. Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé claimed the problem was that Macron wanted ‘one of his own’ as Minister of the Interior, while the PM had suggested a tandem of 2 people, formerly leading Sarkozy supporters, thus turning his Government still further rightwards. Up with this Macron could not put.

Prime Minister Philippe wanted to close down whispers of a possible misunderstanding in the highest echelons of power. To reassure everyone, he told the National Assembly on Wednesday that, as between the President and himself, there wasn’t a difference that was the size of ‘the commencement of the beginning of half a piece of cigarette rolling paper’. Not merely are they on the same page, they’re on the same letter of the same word. Doth the Prime Minister protest too much?

We were first told we’d get a re-shuffle last Monday (6 days after Collomb walked/ran), but Monday came and went. Then it would be Tuesday afternoon for sure. Every journalist had their Elysée Palace spot worked out. But Tuesday came and went [and the President spent over two hours that afternoon with 2,000 French Tech entrepreneurs at incubator hub Station F, using such grand down-to-earth local expressions as ‘scale-up, comme on dit en bon français‘]. At last Wednesday came … and the President went.

No President, no re-shuffle. He’d gone to Armenia to break bread with the family of now-deceased Charles Aznavour and participate in the 17th Francophone Summit [from which we learnt that what newspapers refer to as ‘Molière’s language’ claims to have risen to the lofty heights of N° 5 World Language, with 300 million speakers, after Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic].

Macron returned on Friday … but still all is silence. By Tuesday it’ll be a couple of weeks since Collomb went South by South-East. All we are told by the Elysée is that: ‘The President of the Republic wants to take all the time that’s needed, so that in a calm, professional manner, and respecting the people involved, a coherent and well-qualified team is created to be at the service of the French.’

Political commentator, Duhamel, speaking on RTL about the length of time the non-re-shuffle was taking, said he believed there was a crisis because ‘… today, Emmanuel Macron’s personality is directly and fundamentally called into question. The failings attributed to him are becoming stereotypes; they appear in all opinion polls and every discussion. What’s more, in this re-shuffle it’s the President, not the Prime Minister, who’s being questioned – thus the Prime Minister’s image is improving, but not the President’s. And what we see underlying this is that if [President] Hollande was weakened because he refused to represent authority, with Emmanuel Macron it’s the reverse: there’s an excess of ‘incarnation‘ and an excess of authority.’

What’s left of The Left?

Increasingly little remains today of the Socialist Party. Since 1958 (when de Gaulle created the 5th Republic) their candidate became President in 3 out of 8 Presidential Elections and the Socialists won a majority of Deputies in Parliament’s lower chamber, the National Assembly, four times. But this weekend has seen a further diminution in the Socialists’ already thin Parliamentary resources [currently, there are just 30 Socialist Deputies out of 577]. Two long-standing doyens of the Socialist Party’s left wing (a Senator and a Euro-MP) have gone leftwards, joining Mélenchon’s hard left Unbowed France party: other(s) cannot be far behind.

Possibly due to a serious dearth of other names to play with, rumours emerge every so often that ‘the last Socialist President’ [that latter phrase may need analysis], Hollande, could persuade himself to run once again as the 2022 Socialist Presidential candidate. While in another part of the Socialists’ near-incestuously-small universe, former Socialist Presidential candidate, Environment Minister, and mother of 4 of Hollande’s children, Segolène Royal, appears to be dallying with the idea of being in the front line of the next Socialist Suicide Mission, leading their list of Euro-Parliament-candidates in 2019.

And, symbolically, this week the Socialist Party shut up shop in its former magnificent central Paris HQ … and set up in its new home in the south-eastern suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine. A building more suited to a small Party.

 

 

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