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Why Macron's victory is no reason to be cheerful


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The French electoral system has truly excelled itself this time. The second round of French presidential elections has always been used to level a vote against the person you dislike, but never in my living memory has it produced a candidate so lacking in substance as Macron. 

When, in 2002, the loathsome huckster Jacques Chirac beat Jean-Marie le Pen, it could at least be said that some of the 82% of French voters who backed him did so for positive reasons. He had something resembling a policy platform, a stated set of ideals and tangible proposals for reform. Whilst the motivation to vote against le Pen was significant (‘fascist’ better suits the father than the daughter), Chirac’s supporters could at least say what they were voting for


This is emphatically not true of Macron, who has been carried to victory by the tarnished history of his opponents, by virtue of his youth and alleged vigour, by the vacuity of so many of his supporters (I reserve especial scorn for those well-off youngsters who would vote for a dead horse as long as it was draped in the flag of the EU) and by the truly sinister machinations of his political masters. 

It is worth remembering that Macron is the absolute epitome of an establishment crony. Besides his curious gerontophilia, there is nothing at all which marks him out as a new thing, a serious thinker, a political radical able to fix the beleaguered state. Rather, he appears before us as a finely tuned robot. Behind those clear blue eyes (his only redeeming feature, but I digress…) there are lines upon lines of computer code making innumerable calculations. 

His whole campaign reeks of les enarques, those graduates of the l’ENA who fill the corridors of the Élysée. Those who bemoan the prevalence in British politics of Eton graduates probably do not realise their own luck, for in France it is worse. On average, roughly one half of all French cabinet posts in any administration are held by l’ENA graduates. And that is to say nothing of the Civil Service, the media, and other organs of the engorged French state. 

It is because of his l’ENA affiliations that Macron was able to walk into the  Inspection Générale des Finances in the Civil Service, stroll from there to an investment bank and make millions, then the Élysée Palace, then into government as seamlessly as though his rise were preordained. (Which, after a fashion, it was.) 

His political patron, outgoing President Francois Holland, is a fellow l’ENA graduate. Utterly useless as a politician – so unpopular that Benoit Hamon was deemed by their own party to be a more likely President (Hamon polled just 6% in the first round) – Holland is an acknowledged master of the dark arts. Long rumoured to preside over a cabinet noir, one which helped mastermind, with the compliance of institutions – the media, the magistrates – with a heavy l’ENA contingent, the various revelations that so damaged the campaign of Francois Fillon, Holland has repeatedly claimed a significant role in the rise of Macron. We are left to speculate as to the nature of that role, which is unlikely to be entirely wholesome. 

And Macron has done little to disavow the claims, with the formation of En Marche being only a superficial (albeit clever) show of change and independence. In reality, by voting so heavily against Marine le Pen, French voters have likely saddled themselves with a man who can only be distinguished from his disastrous forebear by his appearance. 

Much has been made of the difficulties he will supposedly encounter once the parliamentary elections have been held. En Marche has never fielded candidates in such an election before and, despite promising to do so in every seat, is highly unlikely to secure a working majority. This, it is claimed, will make it hard to govern. 

Yet I rather suspect that this reading overestimates the differences between the main parties in the French legislature. We can make an exception for le Pen’s Front National and the party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Leftist radical. But between the Socialist and the Republican parties, the differences are largely aesthetic. One of the reasons Benoit Hamon found himself shorn of support was that he was too left wing for the Socialist party, which found much more to like in Macron, its prodigal son. And the Republicans were quick enough to rally around the same ticket, some even before Fillon was officially expunged from the equation. 

Whilst he is often compared with Blair, Macron’s manoeuvres are not quite orchestrated in the same way; yes, he is pretending to be all things to all people, but he places (and must place) far more emphasis on parliamentary triangulation than Blair had to. In this sense, Macron is more akin to Bill Clinton. 

So I would be surprised if Macron were unable to put together some form of majority, with ministers likely drawn from whomever En Marche manages to elect, and the rest from the Socialist Party and (one suspects) one or two from les Republicains as well. This will be presented as  a sign of the new politics, the bipartisan good-guys setting aside their differences to work in the national interest. 

The problem? Their vision for said national interest, to the extent that there exists a vision at all, is highly unlikely to translate into meaningful change. Indeed, the nature of the inevitable coalition almost precludes it. Macron will adopt roughly the same platform as every recent French President, aimed at deficit reduction by such nebulous techniques as ‘labour flexibility’ and deregulation, all in line with the established EU doctrine which has done so much to stall growth in France and elsewhere. 

If there is a significant economic upturn in the Eurozone, Macron will likely be seen as a success. This despite the fact that his policies will have played next to no role in it. (The necessary reminder: we still don’t know what those policies are. I am speculating, and I’ve a good track record on these matters. More importantly – and annoyingly – very few of Macron’s admirers can recite his policies, and yet these people voted for him anyway.) 

If, on the other hand, things remain much as they currently are, how long will it be before this messianic figure is branded a false prophet? Whilst it is by no means clear that Front National will survive five years intact, what with the very public splits between father, daughter and niece, and the potential name-change still in store, the question still wants to be answered: if Macron fails, and the light of his ‘new politics’ fails, who will stand against le Pen in five years’ time? The only obvious answer is Mélenchon, who, and like le Pen (and very much unlike Macron) does at least have a vision of change for the country which goes beyond soundbites and platitudes. 

What will be the establishment’s excuse? They have done everything within their power to elect a machine crafted by them, programmed by them and controlled by them. Macron is the establishment. If he fails, it fails, and there will be precious little talk of Centrism in 2022.

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