‘Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody’ (FP Adams 1944)

At last: Election Time again

President Macron’s party is about to suffer an(other) electoral hiding.

Back in March, in the final days of freedom before lockdown, the last civic duty performed by many was casting a vote in the first round of the municipal elections.

Some were angered by the Government’s decision not to postpone the elections. Many wanted to express their rejection of Matters Macronian. Everyone was worried about the coming virus. What more lethal combination for a governing party?

A plague (as it were) on all your houses.

The Abstention Party duly won a clear overall majority in that first round of voting. At the previous (2014) municipal elections 64% voted in the 1st round: the lowest turnout since the 5th Republic began in 1959. On 15 March 2020, 45% voted.

Even so, 30,000 new Councils were elected that day. Towns where one party won 50%+ votes. That left 5,000 councils with Unfinished Voting Business. Finally, on 28 June, sixteen million voters (including those in most of France’s major cities) can vote in those delayed Municipal Elections Round Two. Any party which won 10% of the vote back in March can stand. And the ‘campaigns’ start on Monday.

Did Round 1 of the elections produce anything tangible? The traditional Right, the Greens, even what remains of the Left, all performed reasonably well.

One party, though, performed miserably: the party created to be Macron’s vehicle for winning him an overall Parliamentary majority, La République en Marche (LREM).

In the coming Round 2, who (other than the surely still-powerful Abstention Party) might have a good day? Anyone But Macron.

For these municipal elections will bring little succour to the President in the wake of his recent (symbolic) Parliamentary problem: the governing LREM party lost its overall Parliamentary majority, as more Deputies from LREM’s ‘left’ and ‘right’ walked away.

LREM’s current municipal electoral ambition? 10,000 municipal councillors. That’s 10,000 from an overall 500,000. The President’s party hopes to win 2% of France’s councillors on 28 June!

Does this actually matter? After all, France elects a President, with every likelihood that Presidents subsequently win Parliamentary majorities following their personal victory. But three years of Presidential and Parliamentary ‘power’ has contributed remarkably little towards any suggestion that Emmanuel Macron is the figurehead of a national party which has taken root in France. All of which adds to the idea that ‘Macronism’ is little more than the man himself. When his political obituary is pronounced, so will be his party’s.

France’s headline municipal prize is Paris, where socialist Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, looks well set for re-election. She won 29% in the first round, and has negotiated an electoral pact with the Greens (10% in round 1). Pollster Ifop-Fiducial for JDD gives Hidalgo 44%, ahead of Sarkozy’s Justice Minister, the (very) conservative Rachida Dati (29%), with also-ran Agnes Buzyn (Macron’s ex-Health Minister, sent on a suicide mission to the aid of the party after her predecessor candidate, Benjamin Griveaux, got caught sending out mucky pix) on 20% for LREM. Hidalgo’s almost-certain win will be the Socialists’ fourth successive Paris victory, after the right’s 1977-2001 hegemony.

The Greens have high expectations of a long-awaited electoral break-through. In March, they finished first in 121 of 251 towns with a population over 30,000. Currently, Grenoble is the only major town controlled by the Greens. But they hope to add Lyon (France’s third-largest city), Besançon, possibly Bordeaux as major prizes. Should those municipal victories be realised – and were France’s still-preferred N° 1 political personality Nicolas Hulot (ecologist/TV rockstar/the Minister who walked out of Macron’s Government) to show Presidential ambitions, he’d launch with some widespread political support.

The President’s LREM party has been largely a self-caricature. It’s ended up allied to the ‘centre’-Right in Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, and Tours. All towns which could well have been won by the Left or the Greens, but for that alliance. All towns where Green and Left voters have further reasons to vote Anyone But Macron in 2022.

Was Macronism ever, as it claimed, a politics of both ‘the right and the left’? As Frédéric Dabi of pollster Ifop points out: ‘These [political alliances] haven’t come out of nowhere. It’s part of a clear electoral line linked to the Executive’s politics. For 3 years there’s been a strong convergence of opinion between those supporting [Macron’s] LREM and the centre-right Républicains on most of the important reforms, such as employment law, the SNCF, pensions, and ‘law and order’ during the gilets jaunes protests.’

The municipal elections Round 2 could well see:

  • the Communists retaining most of the 61 towns (with populations of more than 10,000) they currently control [that is not a sentence which could be written about many other countries]
  • Le Pen’s ultra-right National Rally party winning Perpignan (pop. 120,000), having increased its vote significantly in towns it won in 2014 (Hayange, in north-east France, saw the ultra-right vote leap from 2014’s 30% to 63% in March 2020, undeniably boosted by two out of three voters abstaining),
  • the Socialists retaining most towns they won in 2014: that year was a debacle for municipal Socialism with 121 towns lost (those were the long-gone days of a Socialist President and a Socialist Parliamentary majority)
  • the ‘centre’-right showing life after near-death: beneficiary of the Socialists’ 2014 collapse, they then failed to reach the 2017 Presidential run-off (France’s Right had previously been in every run-off over the 5th Republic’s near-60 years) and later won 8.5% in 2019’s Euro-Elections.

Post-Post-Lockdown

Many are still breath-holding, but it really is beginning to look as though the feared second COVID spike will not arrive (at least before summer).

Professor Delfraissy, president of France’s COVID-19 Scientific Council, pronounced the epidemic ‘under control’. On radio’s France Inter he said: ‘The virus is still circulating, especially in certain regions, but circulating slowly. We have everything we need to identify new cases.’ In Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche Delfraissy described a ‘return to a generalised lockdown’ as ‘unthinkable’. His analysis: ‘We’d probably have to let Covid spread among the young. We would try, provided they agreed, to protect the most vulnerable, ill, old and those most at risk.’

Delfraissy may himself be getting demob happy as he and his Council move towards the end of their time, saying they think they should wind up in early July (summer hols calling?). His JDD interview also found him suggesting that physical distancing in primary schools could soon be further eased, during meals, at break-time and for sports.

As, possibly, one of their last contributions France’s Scientific Council published (2 June) their 7th report (43 pages in French). They set out 4 scenarios for managing the pandemic from the current ‘under control’, ranging through ‘critical, explosive clusters’ to a regional and national epidemic. Its final page was devoted to the dissenting views of a named doctor who (among other differences of opinion) called for obligatory face-coverings whenever outside.

On 29 May, the British Government allowed people an understanding of what was happening behind their scenes. The UK Government website, with the minutes of its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), states:

‘Given the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government, SAGE and its participants want to ensure there is as much available evidence and material as possible to the general public so there is full transparency on how science advice is being formulated. The minutes published today [ie 29 May] cover those from its first meeting [22 January] to the meetings that took place at the beginning of May. The minutes for meetings that have taken place after 7 May still contain sensitive information, with policy advice still under live consideration. These will be published in the coming weeks.’

Vive la différence.

As the number of COVID-sufferers in intensive care dropped to 903 (there were 7,000+ in early April), the Health Ministry declared the daily figures ‘do not show any return of the epidemic’ and the Government spokesperson said the Government ‘is moving forward with considerable caution’

  • the Government let it be known that the State of Health Emergency (which began on 24 March) will almost certainly be (semi-)phased out on 10 July. Only ‘semi-‘ because there’ll be a continuing right (for a further 4 months), should the epidemic re-appear, to determine access to (or mask-wearing in) public transport, limit/prohibit public gatherings or meetings, or even close certain categories of public buildings, and
  • the chief Paris prosecutor announced the opening of a preliminary enquiry into charges of manslaughter, unintentional injury, endangering the lives of others, and failure to assist a person in danger, part of 62 formal charges laid against various Governmental authorities and individuals; all of which is in addition to 84 charges filed against the Prime Minister, and current and former Ministers of Health/Interior/Labour/Justice [the latter filed with the Court of Justice of the Republic, the institution comprising 3 senior judges and 12 Parliamentarians (sic) which ‘tries’ Ministers accused of misconduct in office … the institution Macron pledged to abolish so Ministers would be subject to the same jurisdiction as everyone else]. These ones may run and run.

Something completely different

Brilliant sense of timing from Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly: ‘Nuclear submarine The Téméraire successfully launched an M51 strategic ballistic missile off the coast of Finistère. This test is proof of our technological prowess and our commitment to French sovereignty.’

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