It’s the Silly Season (2 months early)

‘Facts’ are few:

  • 14 June (8pm): The Macron Show (Episode 5)
  • 28 June: Municipal elections Round 2 (disaster for Macron’s LREM party … that’s a fact a fortnight ahead of time)
  • 14 July: France’s national day … the traditional date when (pre-COVID) minds turned towards long summer holidays
  • Between 28 June and 14 July President Macron will reveal how he proposes fulfilling his 13 April pledge: post-COVID everything must change, ‘the day after will not be like the day before’, and he would ‘reinvent himself’.

Febrile Fantasies a-plenty:

Febrile Fantasy N° 1

Macron is wrestling with the challenge of regaining the political initiative. Those who ‘know’ what happens behind the curtain have revealed four possible courses of action:

  • change Prime Minister, and/or
  • reshuffle lots of Ministers, and/or
  • dissolve Parliament and call a General Election (20-40 days later), and/or
  • set up a referendum to determine the way forward.

Two days ago Le Figaro exclusively revealed a Fifth Way: President Macron is thinking of resigning, then standing as a candidate at the ensuing Presidential Election.

The newpaper claimed this coup de théâtre emerged a fortnight ago. Macron allegedly intervened – during an online meeting of his London-based financial donors – and flew this kite. Saying this was ‘not totally excluded’, Macron declared himself ready to ‘take that risk’. A participant on the call claimed Macron said such resignation/re-presentation could happen ‘in the coming weeks or months’. The alleged clincher: ‘I’d be sure to win because there’d be no-one to oppose me.’

The Elysée issued a statement to Agence France Presse: ‘We deny this story. The President has never spoken about his resignation … He never participated in any conference call with donors during which such idea was raised.’

But, preceding the denial, the Elysée (again) proved its cack-mouthedness by initially not denying the report, merely refusing to confirm it.

Le Figaro itself produced an angle on the ‘pre-denial’, quoting the Elysée: ‘As a matter of principle, we do not rule anything out. The hypothesis of a resignation was never on the agenda nor mentioned during any Elysée meeting.’ Carefully-drafted language.

If such wheeze materialised, it would be a 5th Republic first. De Gaulle resigned from office. Pompidou died in office. Every other Presidential Election took place on its duly appointed date. Were it to happen it sure happens quick. The Constitution (Art. 7) requires a Presidential Election 20 – 35 days after the vacancy.

For what it’s worth, centre-left ‘newspaper of record’ Le Monde refused to grace the rumour with any credence. Their pages remain unsullied by this non-sense.

Febrile Fantasy N° 2

This one didn’t start in Le Monde, but they certainly stood the story up, as did other serious journalists.

An anonymous Elysée insider (quoted, 24 May, by a Le Monde political journalist) revealed what scares Macron and his inner circle. Their fear is that a populist will emerge for the 2022 Presidential Election: someone with no political party attachment, incarnating the breakdown between people and elite. After all, Macron did it in a year with zero political background [senior public servant/Minister doesn’t count] … and 2017 was a far less unstable time.

After Ukraine’s Zelensky (one year from acting a president to becoming a President), Italy’s comedian Beppe Grillo (at least he had the good grace to form his Five Star Movement back in 2009, having previously created Vaffanculo Day [Fuck off Day] to clean up Italy’s politics), and Trump. Every one of them adept at social media.

Possible People’s Populists (each a consummate master of Twitter and Facebook):

  • Zemmour (TV host, anti-liberal, racist, anti-globalisation),
  • Raoult (rogue medic, dreamt up Trump’s miracle chloroquine COVID cure),
  • Hanouna (see Zemmour),
  • Bigard (self-describes as France’s most foul-mouthed comic, a misogynist for whom violence against women is really good for a real laugh: John Lichfield’s insightful Politico article for those lucky people who’ve never heard of him).

President Macron, par contre, takes such people for real.

During Lockdown, ‘midst questions on the dangers of Raoult’s Rotten Remedy, Macron bestowed on this charlatan quack the accolade of a 3-hour Presidential visit to his Marseilles clinic. It ended with Macron meeting the ‘great scientist’ (President Macron, 15 April) privately.

In early May, an online film of Zemmour being insulted on the street, and spat on, went viral. Macron (‘reported’ ultra-right weekly Valeurs Actuelles) rang Zemmour the following day: they spoke for 45 minutes.

Two days before Lockdown-lifting started (9 May), Bigard addressed Macron in a YouTube rant. It’s had 8 million views. Bigard demanded that bars and restaurants be allowed to open. Condemning the Government’s ‘puppets’ for changing face-mask advice back and forth, Bigard urged Macron to sack ’em all. Bigard told the President to ‘cross the street’ (hommage to Macron’s celebrated put-down of an unemployed gardener who foolishly wanted a gardening job) and pick a new Government.

End-May (Sud Radio) Bigard proudly said he’d ‘shat on the President’, who had then phoned Bigard and said he was ‘right’ about re-opening bars and restaurants.

Bigard told news channel BFM TV he could be ‘interested’ in being Presidential candidate ‘to represent the people … If people might be helped by having someone sincere, who didn’t belong to any political party, then yes that could tempt me.’ He went on: ‘Just like the President finds it difficult to talk directly to the people, so he calls me. He speaks to the people through me … When someone represents the people, and the people are a bit angry, you get called. I think that’s why the gilets jaunes want me involved. They say: ‘Who can best represent us?’ My name often comes up.’

Bigard – saying that Parliament and Government ‘lie’ – called Ministers ‘losers’ … and concluded with a revolutionary flourish: ‘The day people really wake up. Finally. Then things will get rough. Heads must roll.’

[Polling Note: Pollster Ifop for Valeurs Actuelles (can’t keep a sound neo-fascist weekly down) found 13% ‘ready’ to vote for Bigard if he were a 2022 Presidential candidate. 68% replied they would ‘definitely not’ vote for Bigard, and a further 15% ‘probably not’. And who are ‘they’? Bigard appeals to twice as many men as women (only twice?) with hard left, far right and gilets jaunes supporters most likely to vote for him.]

Tonight At Eight

Perhaps the President feels the need for increased personalised exposure.

After all, his Prime Minister got brilliant feedback having, first, so capably explained why he was locking us all down, and then how he was letting us out.

Macron’s has become more like previous Presidencies, with regular updates on Matters Presidential. Little evidence of Physical Distancing from The People. An early indicator of Reinvention Time?

News of tonight’s 8pm TV appearance was leaked in (again) Le Figaro, and later confirmed by the Elysée. That right-wing rag has as important a role as its UK equivalent, The Daily Telegraph. The Elysée knows its target audience.

So what sort of President will we get tonight?

Episodes 1 – 3 of the Macron Show gave us Martial Macron (a nearly-forgotten Episode 3 came live from a military field hospital for those who prefer visual to aural nudges). Episode 4 had Mea Culpa Macron.

Tonight? Manager Macron?

We should learn Macron’s reply to calls for a faster Lockdown exit. Centre-right Presidential hopeful, Valérie Pécresse, President of the Greater Paris Region, wants the region transferred from Zone Orange to Zone Green. The head of the largest employers’ federation, MEDEF, wants ‘health and safety business protocols revised’ to bring a rapid ‘return to normal’.

We could hear that restaurants and cafés will open in Greater Paris earlier than 22 June. Back-to-School is more challenging: barely a quarter of France’s 6.7 million primary children are at school, with not many full time. Maybe loosen school safety protocols?

Aside from post-Lockdown management, the President must address the anger sparked by George Floyd’s brutal murder as well as several notorious cases of French police violence. Young people are on the street which will worry Government.

Lastly, the economic crisis. Air France got €7bn in exchange for cutting internal flights. Renault’s €5bn is conditional on manufacturing electric cars in France and joining Peugeot on battery research. But what will the President want in exchange for the billions invested in widespread, very generous ‘technical unemployment’ pay? And will Macron, finally, ask the better-off to contribute, after their three years of freebies?

Reinvention Time

That first fortnight of July is already crowded with Government initiatives:

  • the report by 150 random citizens who signed up for the Convention for Ecological Transition. Launched after the Great National Debate, the gilets jaunes crisis and Macron’s withdrawn fuel tax-hike, the Convention began deliberating last October. When the President set up the Convention, he said he’d submit its proposals to a Parliamentary vote or referendum, or actually adopt them,
  • the Great Health Debate concludes: chaired by Nicole Notat (former leader of France’s largest union, themoderate CFDT), reviewing healthcare pay, organisation, working week, and working conditions … in the wake of Macron’s admission that his reforms may have worsened a bad situation, and
  • the President hears back from the leaders of the National Assembly, the Senate and the Economic, Social, Environmental Council. Macron asked them to consult widely before recommending how to ‘map new perspectives, redefine community relationships, and outline a new horizon’. [Me neither.]

Prime Minister-sacking is a go-to remedy for electorally-challenged Presidents. What more logical than PM-swapping when they’re performing ineptly and are unpopular. Bread, circuses and Governmental reshuffles.

Imagine, though, the irritating lèse-majesté of Prime Minister Philippe. His popularity rating soars at least 10 points above Macron’s. [YouGov for Huffpost (2 June): What do you think of Macron’s performance as President? 28% favourable. And Philippe’s performance as Prime Minister? 42% favourable.]

Worse still, all this talk of the need for a reshuffle has cut through. The public’s persuaded. Odoxa for BFM TV found 64% supported a reshuffle. BUT damn it. 65% want Philippe to remain Prime Minister.

It’s not inconceivable Philippe’s had it, trying to manage his President. Perhaps time to leave the stage. Especially when they’re shouting for more.

After all, with perfect timing, on 28 June Prime Minister Philippe is candidate as Mayor in his home town, Le Havre. He’d previously been its Mayor for 7 years before being Summoned By Macron. Philippe is likely to win (the Communists won 36% and the Greens 8% in the 1st round) though an Ifop poll for Paris-Normandie gives Philippe 53% and the Communists 47%. So a close-run thing will be determined by how many first-round abstentionists decide to make a voting statement.

Should Philippe win Le Havre’s Mayoralty perhaps he, rather than President Macron, will make the decision.

Does he want more time in the PM’s splendid Matignon Palace?

Or a safe haven in Le Havre? A town, importantly, in easy reach of Paris. From where Mayor Philippe could happily plot how to win nomination as the traditional right’s 2022 Presidential candidate: an in-house opponent to Macron’s own centre-right-greentinged candidature.

And an infinitely more serious candidate for the Presidency than a well-sanitised Jean-Marie Bigard.

Should the President resign at 8pm, I’ll be back later today.

See you tomorrow.

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