Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Has Macron done a Cameron?


THE EXIT polls in France showing Marine Le Pen heading for victory in the highest turn-out since 1988 raise this question.

In February 2016 David Cameron announced his intention to give the British people the opportunity to vote for Brexit in the firm belief that the sensible silent majority would vote it down. He had a pressing political problem to solve: the rise of Ukip to the right of his party. Ukip had won the largest number of British seats in the European Parliament elections in 2014. Cameron desperately needed to do two things. First, kill the growing call for Brexit by turning and tackling it head-on. Second, stop Ukip dividing the right-wing vote.

Faced with the prospect of a hung parliament and no majority after the 2015 General Election, he promised an In/Out Referendum. His concern was not the democratic will of the people, but the preservation of big corporate interest i.e. the EU and the UK political party serving big corporate interest – the Conservatives. Democracy and conservatism had nothing to do with it. 

Cameron had successfully faced down the call for proportional representation in 2011 and the Scottish movement for independence in 2014. He defused both by tackling them head-on. But in the 2016 Brexit vote he lost. He resigned.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has been facing similar pressures, and the outcome may well prove the same. Of course, Macron has never held a referendum. Since the French rejected the EU Constitution proposal in 2005, they are no longer to be trusted with any form of single-issue democracy. The Brexit vote in the UK simply reinforced the fears of European corporate power. Macron has refused to commit heresy by holding a referendum. Instead he opted for a general election – first-round voting took place yesterday.

Macron’s shock decision to dissolve the national assembly reveals two critical truths. One, that he was desperate to keep the political initiative which in reality he has lost. Two, the Euro election results last month revealed the underlying fault lines in modern European, western politics: the legitimate concerns of the people challenge the perverse grip on power held by self-serving corporate and monied interests.

As in the UK in 2014, the threat from the right became undeniable. The Rassemblement National (National Rally) gained unprecedented success, topping the poll dramatically with 31 per cent of all votes and 30 of France’s 81 seats. Their nearest rivals gained less than 15 per cent and only 13 seats.

Like Cameron, Macron is facing down the threat; in reality he had no choice. He has spent the last two years supported by a minority in the National Assembly. Like Cameron, he has been banking on the delusion that the people want more EU, not less. Like Cameron, he disdains conservatism. Like Cameron in 2015/16, Macron spent the last year taking initiatives to woo right-wing voters – in Macron’s case, desperate but largely cosmetic campaigns to clamp down on drug dealers and illegal immigrants. 

The President has been in office for seven years yet manages to convince himself that everyone has forgotten his actual record. Every major issue has got much worse, be it illegal immigration, crime and insecurity, the balance-of-payments deficit, public services and the now crippling national government debt, which has virtually doubled during his tenure. In fact his image is now so bad that even his own Prime Minister makes no mention of Macron in his election material. It is an open secret that party candidates want him to shut up and hide away in the Elysee Palace during the entire campaign.

The opinion polls persistently give his supporters third place, trailing the left-wing coalition of Communists, Socialists and Ecologists called Le Nouveau Front Populaire, with the Rassemblement National in first place maintaining a solid one-third of all voting intentions.

Macron has gambled on the difference between the proportional representation of the European elections and the ‘first-past-the-post’ variant in France – a sort of Alternative Vote system by virtue of the need to gain over 50 per cent of votes in the first round to win straight off; if that fails, which seems at the time of writing to be the case, then a decisive second round of voting takes place next Sunday.

Macron is desperate to bolster his so-called centre ground by playing persistently on fears of extreme left and right, and rubbishing the costing of their programmes – as if his seven years of budget failure doesn’t count. Following the exit poll last night, Mr Macron urged voters to block the ‘far Right’ next Sunday’s second round, calling for a ‘broad alliance’.

Voters however have seen right through the millionaire marketing man whose real agenda was always to maintain the power of big corporate interests in global business and in Brussels.

As in the UK, the right is on the rise in France. Macron is electorally a serious liability and the straight right and moderate left will be the winners.

I suspect a centre-left coalition government will emerge in the 577-seat Assembly, with the Rassemblement National forming the principal party of opposition as now – but with perhaps 250 MPs compared with 89 last time.

Whatever the outcome, it won’t solve the underlying crisis in French national life: democracy or plutocracy. French politics could now enter a dangerous new phase of serious instability, especially if the Rassemblement National wins a majority. The left is on a war footing. Watch this space!

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Graham R. Catlin
Graham R. Catlin
Graham R. Catlin is a teacher. He has lived for several years in France and takes a keen interest in French politics and media. He is editor/ commentator of an edition of Edmund Burke's famous assertion of Conservatism, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

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