As my country announced centrist outsider Emmanuel Macron as new President, relief was the prominent feeling for me, and no doubt millions across the nation and the world. This is post-2016, a year which saw the rejection of politics as usual materialise into a nasty burn-everything, quasi medieval populism across the UK and US. It’s been shit.
In this context of political madness, many friends joked about this being ‘our turn’. And it felt a bit like that. Thankfully, France chose a different kind of revolutionary spirit, one which makes me hopeful and proud to be French.
Make no mistake. Like its neighbours of ‘the West’, the French election was a giant ‘raz-le-bol’, the seismic rejection the establishment (hate that phrase). François Fillon’s traditional Right and the outgoing Left scored an embarrassing combined total of 25% of first round votes, as both parties failed to reach the decisive second round.
That’s a political earthquake, the equivalent of Labour and Tories getting less than a quarter of votes between them. In a Fifth Republic accustomed to watching power juggle from Right to Left as successive governments never fail to fail, this is a remarkable achievement for Macron’s En Marche! party, created a year ago.
In her rejection of mainstream parties, France turned to fresh ideas over fear and retreatism. This is needed, in a country whose ancient economy still stands by absurd 35-hour working week laws, and a quasi-shutdown on Sunday because well, unions say so. With the 5th highest unemployment rate in Europe, there’s work to be done.
A former banker and socialist minister gone rogue, Macron will be France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, aged just 39. To the British outsider, his pro-economic reform agenda, socially liberal and pro-European outlook may be reminiscent of New Labour. It will be interesting to see how far he can shake up my country’s rigid and notoriously untouchable economic landscape.
Above all though, this second round will go down as a big ‘fuck off’ to Marine Le Pen’s Front National, who scored a megre 35% of votes. Disturbed by years of terrorism and corruption scandals, the election was a political red carpet for her.
Neo-Nazi photo opps
Ideologically, Le Pen could be described as the lovechild Nigel Farage seems to hope Donald Trump will one day give him. Equally affected by shady corruption stories, the FN candidate nonetheless brands herself an outsider to a broken system failing the people. You know the type.
As extremist parties tend to, she tried to hijack the very concept of patriotism along her way. The party funded by her dad Jean-Marie in the 1970s has had a consistent record of hateful rhetoric and exploiting fear for political purposes. Its position have ranged from Holocaust denial to the continued demonisation of minorities, particularly Muslims. Honestly, they’re dicks.
Head of the party since 2011, Marine is the more presentable face of the FN, without the baggage of stupid interviews and compromising photo opps with Neo-Nazis her dad constantly got caught up in. But by looking more credible while retaining the essence of her dad’s politics, she is only more dangerous. Shortly before the first round, she committed to banning all immigration into France indefinitely, a policy even the old Donald may have found a little radical.
France’s political set up isn’t perfect, but one thing it does is make it difficult for extremes to win executive power. The two-round system allows voters to choose from a wide array of candidates first, before siding with whichever finalist most aligns with their ideas. Thankfully, no other party called for their voters to support FN.
By contrast other nations like say, America, somehow managed to design a system dumb enough to enable candidates to win with a minority of votes provided they win a couple of swing states, thus effectively making a vast majority of votes redundant.
Time will tell what Macronism truly stands for, and how successful his nurturing party can be in uniting politicians across the spectrum to drive meaningful reform in France, and perhaps even in Europe too.
Unlike the UK, France holds a separate election for MPs. It remains to be seen whether he can gather enough support to govern, or whether like Obama his legacy will leave a taste of unfinished business blocked by the giant machinery of partisan politics.
Until we truly know what Macron is, let us take time to sit back, pop a bottle of red and celebrate what we know he is not.