‘The Right: Why the Nightmare Goes On’ (Le Journal de Dimanche)
The Conservative and Unionist Party, in the United Kingdom, has claims to be the world’s oldest political party. Formed in the 1830’s, it took its current name after allying with Liberal Unionists in 1867. In Germany, the Christian Democrat Party has always been the major party on the right since it was founded in 1945. But as for the Right in France. It’s all so very different. President de Gaulle created the 5th Republic in 1958. Since then the party of the Right has done nothing but mutate.
De Gaulle’s supporters formed the ‘Union for the New Republic’ which begat a semi-leftist ‘Union for the New Republic-Democratic Union for Labour’ which begat the ‘Union of Democrats for the 5th Republic’ which begat the ‘Union of Democrats for the Fifth Republic’ which begat the ‘Union of Democrats for the Republic’ (not forgetting the ‘Union for the Defence of the Republic’ which lasted a whole week in June ’68) which begat the ‘Rally for the Republic’ which begat the ‘Union for a Popular Movement’ which begat today’s (or, in the not-too-distant-future perhaps, yesterday’s?) ‘Les Républicains’. And so it goes on. The
struggle torment continues.
The last few weeks have been unrelentingly tough for Les Républicains. A lamentable 8.48% of the electorate was persuaded to vote for the Right’s historic party in the Euro-Elections, ending 4th behind the parties of Macron and Le Pen, as well as the Greens. A debacle of historic proportions: the lowest vote ‘achieved’ by the Right under the 5th Republic, and possibly in any French national elections.
The initial reaction of misguided Républicains party leader, Wauquiez, was to describe the result as ‘not meeting the expectations raised by their campaign’. After all, expectations must surely have been relatively high for a party list led by a Eurosceptic Catholic philosophy teacher whose previous campaigns were largely confined to opposition to same-sex marriage.
Leader Wauquiez offered his disappointed colleagues a seriously radical solution. A Major Party Gathering in September. This would give plenty of time for mature reflection. Infinitesimally too little. Far far too late. Opposition to Leader Wauquiez was now articulated openly. Opposition to his hyper-centralised, domineering leadership. Opposition to what was by now a very conservative party whose only apparent political line was competing with Le Pen, on the ultra-right, for the votes of social conservatives whose main (sole?) interests were identity and immigration.
Criticism of Wauquiez became a commonplace. Reminders abounded of the consequences of an earlier fiasco. Sarkozy, then-leader of the Right (as well as leader of his party’s list) won a miserable 13% of the vote 20 years earlier in the 1999 Euro-Elections. What did Sarko do? Even Sarko felt obliged to resign the following day. [And, talking of that old rogue, he denies that he’s seeking a
So it came to pass. A long week after the Euro-Elections. The main evening TV news on TF1. The traditional time and place for solemn announcements to the nation. Wauquiez, elected party leader 18 months before, with 75% support, finally gave a very small part of the nation some relief. Describing the election result as a ‘failure’ (no hyperbole there), and ‘accepting responsibility’, Wauquiez said he would ‘take a step back’.
And with that he was gone. But not, I fear, to be forgotten. Wauquiez still runs a powerful regional authority, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes. He will certainly yearn to realise his dream of returning centre-stage. After all, his predecessor Sarkozy found there were second acts in French lives by finally achieving his Presidential ambition. Can the Républicains party be that stupid as to give Wauquiez a second act? Oh yes. They can be.
[Before moving on, a bit more about that Old Rogue Ex-President Sarkozy. His name’s been mentioned as the (only?) person to remove the Républicains party from its self-made hole. He’s still ever so popular among The Faithful. But the multiplicity of ongoing prosecutions (illegal campaign finance of his 2012 Presidential campaign/corruption of a senior judicial officer/illegal Libyan finance for his campaigns) should deter most. He also (says Mediapart, the online news site) has had an unusual interest in, and liked using, €500 notes. All sounding very dodgy. Sarko himself denies come-back ambitions.]
In Wauquiez’s wake others departed too.
First out of the gate was perhaps the highest-profile figure on the moderate(ish) centre(ish)-right. Valérie Pécresse, leader of the Ile-de France (Greater Paris) regional authority warned that the Right was ‘threatened by extinction’. Declaring the Right to be incapable of reform by the Républicains party, but only from the outside, she upped and went outside, muttering to anyone who’d listen: ‘If we’re incapable of providing a real alternative to Macron, then Marine Le Pen will win power’.
Pécresse also repeated a much-used phrase [several on the Right love this analogy – it shows how 21st century they all are]: ‘In a world which has streaming, the Républicains Party still sells video-recorders. We shouldn’t be surprised no-one comes to our shop.’ Time will determine whether the loud noise at the end of this particular scene of the Right’s existential psycho-drama was that of Pécresse slamming a door, or firing a gun.
And then. And then. The dribble of other centre-right apparatchiks, including a handful of Députés, who flowed out with Pécresse, became more substantial.
With the Euro-Elections over, thoughts are turning to 2020’s municipal elections. It is in France’s small and medium-sized towns that the Right still reigns. In many towns, where the Right had been in power for decades, President Macron’s arrival overturned the status quo. Following his election as President, towns that had been bastions of the right elected Deputies from Macron’s En Marche party.
Several of President Macron’s Ministers, especially ones who joined Macron from the Right, have been adding to the pressure on Les Républicains. Scarcely veiled warnings were issued that elected Mayors from the Right needed to do that Stand Up And Be Counted bit. Publicly. And quickly. Or else Macronite Forces may just be obliged to consider that if you weren’t for ’em you were against ’em. In which case woe betide etc etc. All, needless to say, done in the best possible taste.
Last Sunday’s Journal de Dimanche was the chosen vehicle for 72 Right and Centre-Right Mayors and assorted Council leaders – all current or recent members of Les Républicains – declaring themselves to be, not merely Macron-compatible (in the local jargon) but active supporters too. Mayors from 3 large-ish towns (Angers, Tours and Orléans), and many smaller ones announced their support for President Macron: ‘France must succeed. That’s why we want the President of the Republic and his Government to succeed. Nothing can be achieved if they fail.’ Macron’s squeeze of France’s traditional party of the Right continues … and with each new arrival from the Right his originally ‘neither left nor right’ party looks more lop-sidedly rightward-leaning.
But the near-grounded hulk that is the remains of the Républicains Party is not only damaged by desertions to Macron’s centre-right party. The hounds of the ultra-right slaver at the idea of trawling assorted flotsam from the failing Right. Marine Le Pen welcomed the resignation of Wauquiez by tweeting that the former Front National party ‘welcomes with open arms all patriotic elected officials and voters from Les Républicains’. While her (still more ultra-right) niece Marion Maréchal said on LCI TV that it was ‘essential that there emerge from the current Républicains party debacle part of the Right that would accept the principle of a broad coalition’ with the National Rally (formerly the Front National): a ‘great patriotic compromise’.
Some think the only way is up … some fear the only way is down
‘We want to win and hold power’. With that understated line, Yannick Jadot (leader of the (semi-)triumphant Greens (3rd in the Euro-Elections with 13.5%) announced his plans for the coming year. ‘We want to win at least 4 major cities in the 2020 municipal elections’. He specifically mentioned Paris, Nantes, Rennes and Toulouse – all, historically, cities that have been held in recent years by the left. Jadot made clear he doesn’t intend to win power by sitting down with other parties on the left. He intends to fight his climate change corner. That will certainly be a recurring issue for the Greens. Can they reinforce the disappearance of the historic left-right faultline by staying aloof from the Old Politics?
In another part of the political forest, things look even more complicated. After the humiliation of disastrously winning only a handful more votes than the barely-alive Socialist Party, life has been exceptionally tough for the hard left’s France Unbound and its increasingly-pathetic leader, Mélenchon. The Great Leader has been (unusually) silent since his Euro-Election disaster. Apart from a saddish blog-note in which he spoke about ‘letting the dust settle’ – and quoting Camus’s philosophical essay urging that ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy’ – the People’s Tribune has not handed down The New Official Line. There has therefore been little for the comrades to do except snipe at each other. Certainly, Mélenchon’s electoral stone flattened him as it rolled all the way back down that long hill.
The monolithic France Unbound party – which owes, and shows) total obedience to The Great Leader – is finally beginning to show some strains of its position. A leading party figure has even called for another political ‘Big Bang’ (sic). France Unbound’s lack of democracy, Mélenchon’s authoritarianism and his party’s populism have all been cited. So surely it must be time for Another New Party. This was announced in the traditional way. 1,000 signatories, from across the rainbow spectrum, called for a new pan-Left movement in a Le Monde opinion piece. The BigBangers tell us it’s 2 minutes to midnight, so they’re calling for a get-together on 30 June at Romanes Circus, in the almost-too-good-to-believe Parody Square. Here we go again.
Democracy in action
One of the Macron Government’s flagship measures was the proposed privatisation of the airport authority, Aeroports de Paris, owner and manager of Charles de Gaulle, Le Bourget and Orly airports. The Parliamentary left succeeded in delaying (maybe ultimately preventing) the privatisation process, by forcing through a referendum demand. This, after the Left had managed (for once) to agree a united course of action; they even got the Républicains to sign up too, another bone of contention for now-departed Pécresse who thought that the Right was supposed to applaud privatisations.
But this isn’t anything as ‘direct democracy’ as a national vote on privatisation. Rather it’s the launch of a procedure to see whether, by 12 March 2020 at 23:59, some 4,717,000 voters (ie 10% of voters) will sign an online petition against privatisation. If achieved, that would be the initial step in requiring the Government to organise a referendum on the question of privatisation.
This is the first time the ‘citizen’s demand for a referendum’ procedure has been used since its introduction under Sarkozy’s Presidency in 2008. This is, incidentally, the measure which President Macron – responding to gilets jaunes demands – said he would make easier to implement by lowering the referendum threshold to 1 million signatures.
French citizens worldwide can join the Democratic Fun, and bring about a referendum on the nationalisation of AdP. Actually NO. It’s nowhere as easy as that. Nothing much will be bound to happen once the 4.7 million click-signatures have been duly registered. All that actually has to happen is that Parliament would be obliged to consider the 4.7 million People’s Demand. Anyway, it’s all part of the Democratic Merry-Go-Round: click here if you want your ‘neo-obstructivist’ view to be taken into account … and you want to render the Government’s budget still less likely to balance.
For those wanting serious politics, the stuff of Macron’s Political Reforms goes on
What’s universally described as Act II of the Macron Presidency was unveiled this week by Macron’s centre-right Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe.
Thus President Macron confirmed his intention to keep those press conference pledges when responding to the Great National Debate. Macron had pledged to let his Government govern. That he would be less omnipresent. That he now delegated. All of which led Macron to abandon his planned Oh-So-Solemn State of the Nation Address to both Houses of Parliament, delivered (wherever else?) in Versailles Palace.
Premier Philippe, encouraged to get on with the business of governing, announced his priority issues. Many hugely controversial new subjects lie ahead: pensions, decentralisation, assisted reproductive technology for all (yes including gay women and single mothers: surely that will revive The Apoplectic Right) and unemployment benefit. There’s also the thorny (previously shelved during the gilets jaunes crisis) matter of institutional reform: all those plans to cut down on the number of Deputies and senators, as well as introducing ‘a dose of proportional representation’. And never forget the issue that ‘will be at the heart of Act II’ [certainly ever since those Greens did passing well in the Euro-Elections]: ecology.
But, ever the practical man [one, maybe, who still has his eyes firmly fixed on a distant post-Macronian future] Prime Minister Philippe initially made it clear that bread and butter politics still matters. ‘We got the message loud and clear’. The message is what the Prime Minister described as ‘fiscal exasperation’ – not sure the phrase works much better in the original French.
And with this, we got solid confirmation of the important takeaway that the gilets jaunes achieved far more in 6 months than most trade unions over many years. Perhaps that goes to show what some 50,000 demonstrations can achieve. Although, for yesterday’s 31st consecutive Sunday, almost no demonstrators were visible on the streets: 7,000 over the whole of France, with less than 1,000 in Paris.
Back to the Prime Minister. Last Wednesday, he announced a very significant cut in taxes for next year. To be delivered in one massive giveaway. No never-never drip-drip effect for this Government. It’s to be ‘A fiscal big bang.’ €5 billion will be cut from the income tax bill. 12 million households paying the lowest tax rate will have an average €350 more each month (with the lowest tax rate cut from 14% to 11%). A further 5 million households on the next tax rate will gain €104 per month.
Forget ‘The President of the Rich’, we present ‘The Prime Minister of The Lower-Paid Workers’. And so that Higher-Paid Workers shouldn’t feel totally forgotten during this tax giveaway, Philippe announced the total abolition of the local property tax, by 2023, for all first-home owners (even very well-off ones). But there’s still no clue as to how municipal authorities will pay for the services that the tax used to fund.
As to how the giant tax bonanza is to be paid for, that’s for tomorrow. Or the beginning of the holiday season, whichever is later. It looks as though early July – always the least bad time to bring out this type of announcement – will be the moment for Macron’s Finance Ministers to persuade the nation that only companies benefiting from ‘anti-ecological’ tax advantages will actually suffer. What a happy outcome: win-win for environment, workers and (above all) Government.
There’s a fine summary of all the Government’s major plans for Reform Act II in The Economist.
And here, just because I like it, is The Favorite Cat (from The Metropolitan Museum of Art):