Vive la Démocratie!

The Assemblée Nationale with the Seine in the foreground
The Assemblée Nationale with the Seine in the foreground. Image by Véronique PAGNIER; public domain

Elections can be both a drag and very exciting – but pity the poor French population who have been balloted four times since April 2022: twice for the Presidential post and twice for the Legislative Assembly. At least voting isn’t compulsory as it is in Australia, where failing to vote is punishable with a $20 fine!

Electoral exhaustion

So, a relatively low turnout in the second round of voting for the Presidency was as much weariness as disinterest in M Macron, whose nose was put out of joint by a surprisingly large increase in votes for the irrepressible Marine Le Pen and then further bloodied by losing his Parliamentary majority on 19 June, leaving poor Emmanuel to cosy up to a ragbag of minority parties to create a power base in the legislature for his unpopular policies, such as raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 (quel horreur!). And he hasn’t even begun to get stuck into the French devotion to lunch from 12 to 2:30pm, even though economic productivity is higher than in Britain, where hardly anyone has lunch any more.

But, it is said, the French don’t do coalition very comfortably or politely; their preference is to hurl insults at each other which make the duels of our beloved Boris “Eton Mess” Johnson and Keir “Beer Korma” Starmer look quite tame, even at PMQs.

It’s a Russian thing

Surprisingly, the best (and probably only) gag emerging from the war in Ukraine was former Russian President Medvedev’s reference to ‘Frogs’ in relation to Macron’s coolly received arrival in Kyiv along with ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Liverwurst’ for his Italian and German counterparts who all travelled together by train and argued about who had the best ‘couchette’. No rail strike in Poland or Ukraine (lucky them!).

But it’s a Russian ‘thing’ to refer to the French, and therefore Macron, as ‘Frogs’ due to a widely held misconception about the common French diet. Were that to be true, Macron would and does face his most fearsome carnivorous predators as foxes, skunks and weasels to mention but a few.

Which predatory beast’s description would best apply to his principal opponents is a matter of opinion but certainly his fiercest is the second favourite, Marine Le Pen. From her stronghold in the North of France, she gave him a good run.

Princess Royal of Darkness

The freshly revamped and made-over daughter of France’s Prince of Darkness, Jean-Marie, former leader of the far-right French National Front, won many more hearts in this, her second attempt to conquer occupancy of the Elysée, and she just about made the gates, but not the keys.

So what is her base hard core vote like? And how does that pan out to many others who jumped ship from the Left and Centre in the rest of France? 

The ‘Front Populaire’ (National Front) led by Jean-Marie Le Pen had its origins in the industrial north of France and is now newly rebranded as the National Rally party. It also has a firm base in the east of France, Alsace and Lorraine in particular, with a long history of being strongly xenophobic and anti-integration.

“Into the valley…”

Macron’s problem in this last presidential election is that he took for granted a moderate vote from the centre and failed to engage with the more right-wing factions and completely ignored the left. He thought his re-election was a shoo-in but it was not the case. Even after his first election he was deeply unpopular, seen as a remote ‘intellectual’ without the common touch.

Take, for example, my friends Bernard and Mirielle in the South East of France near Grenoble, with whom I have had many lunches. When I raised questions about Macron, I was told that in no circumstances should his name be mentioned in the house; they refused to discuss him at all. I wasn’t going to argue as they fed us with their beautiful lunch, which was too good to miss.

Anyway, this from a recently retired senior advertising executive with the largest agency based in Paris, on a very large salary and pension, but who sticks resolutely to voting for the hard left. He is not alone as a true “champagne socialist” as are many middle class and professional voters in a large number of Paris districts.

Cucumber, or cold fish?

My friends and many others could not bear the aloofness and apparent arrogance of Macron. What they and many others bemoaned was a vacuum of alliances in the Macron campaign. The feeling seemed to be that Emmanuel should have snuggled up to the right to create a solid base for his agenda.

Equally, he might have sought support from the left. But he did neither, and centrist voters lost heart in a candidate that could not be bothered to engage with the electorate nor work with either “wing” to enable his unpopular policies on economic and promotion of French industry reforms.

The Fifth Republic (born in 1958, no doubt to celebrate my birth!) suddenly appears vulnerable with an unpopular and apparently remote president.

Le Pen to the rescue?

So, cue Marine Le Pen and her chance to attract voters across the nation – rural, urban, industrialists and many others. Despite her Northern base, she attracted a swathe of votes in the South, notably in and around Marseilles and among many farmers and hunters, as well as solidly middle class professionals.

Many of these would previously have voted for the left but swung to her as a strong, vocal, attractive candidate, despite her family background. Interesting though, that she has indicated mild support for some of his legislative programme – perhaps the price of pursuing some legislative power.

The view now seems to be that she will not stand again for the presidency but hand over the baton to Jordan Bardella in 2027 who is young, vigorous and a mover and shaker and will be an awesome adversary in the next national election.

A duck with no wings!

Without alliances with either wing of the French political landscape, Macron faces the probability of being a ‘dead duck’, unable to instigate any of his policies or ideas. He can count on no-one for support unless on a ‘case-by-case’ basis according to Le Pen. And his refusal to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne – described by the leftist Nupes leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as “having the charisma of a carrot” – will hardly help. 

His posturing as a putative successor to EU leader in the place of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and his fourteen or so attempts to be a peacemaker with ‘Vlad the Invader’ Putin has gained him little credibility.

Even a little bit of discipline from his former teacher and now spouse hasn’t seemed to help. Meantime some powerful telescopes on top of the white cliffs of Dover might be useful to see what happens next… Onwards or downwards? Vive La France!

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