ON Sunday Emmanuel Macron, having lost over two million voters since he was elected in 2017, and with his closest rival Marine Le Pen having gained three million over the same period, did what polling had predicted (and perhaps assisted in) and was returned to the position of one of the most powerful positions in the ‘democratic’ world, that of French President.
From his victory podium beneath the Eiffel Tower, after a short march to the tune of the EU anthem (formerly known as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement) and flanked, somewhat creepily, by the offspring of his campaign team, Macron magnanimously asked the crowd to stop booing the loser after he mentioned her name. ‘I told you not to hiss – because from now on, I am not a partisan candidate, but the president of everyone,’ he declared. ‘I know that for many who chose the Far Right, the anger and disagreements which led them to vote that way must be answered.’
He ended the speech with tears in his eyes. It is hard to tell whether this was genuinely felt emotion or just a trick of the old ham who, aged 16, acted in a play produced by his then teacher (now wife) Brigitte. Perhaps it was relief. In any case, there was no celebration, no fireworks. The motorcade of TV journalists chased him as far as La Lanterne, his presidential retreat in Versailles and an ancien régime hunting lodge, where he was having a quiet night in with a few of his closest allies. It felt like wartime, with an important battle won, a brief moment of back-slapping, followed by a return to campaign HQ for port and cigars.
The lack of triumphalism and the humility expressed in his victory speech are telling. As has been pointed out far and wide, having predicted in 2016 that, unless the country took bold steps to change itself, the so-called Far Right would continue to progress towards power, Macron seems to have been proved wrong. The ‘bold steps’ he has taken to change the country have not only not shrunk Le Pen’s party, but caused such a powerful loathing for the man that even her widely-considered toxic family name could not prevent many voters from choosing her over what they considered a greater evil. As one tweeter put it: ‘I’ve always avoided voting for extremes. For the first time I’ll vote for Marine Le Pen, because she’s not the extremist, Macron is. He frightens me.’
Macron, who constantly referred to Le Pen as the ‘Far Right candidate’ while campaigning (except during the presidential head-to-head TV debate, when this obvious slur was decorously dropped) effectively mobilised to his advantage the nevertheless considerable fear of ‘fascism’ that finds a wide, uncritical echo in the media at home and abroad. The irony of a man who has done so much to arm and expand the security state, forced people to follow the whims of his decision-making over Covid suppression measures for two years, and given a taste of what’s to come with his heavily armed and armoured police presence on Sunday night breaking up protests against his re-election being returned to power to stop a putative authoritarian threat is breath-taking.
Nevertheless, whether humbly or hubristically, Macron is back in the Elysée Palace, and the great and good of the Western world are delighted and relieved. Volodymyr Zelensky was ecstatic about his ‘true friend’ being returned to power and excited about a ‘strong, united Europe!’ Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor who had already interfered in the election a few days previously, was the first to hail ‘a strong commitment to Europe’. EU bureaucrat Charles Michel was happy to have back a leader ‘committed to a more sovereign and strategic European Union’. The world had been watching the election, and those who run it were very pleased to have their man remain in the captain’s seat.
It is reasonable to be pessimistic about where this could end up. Macron has not hesitated to say that he will revive any measures needed to combat the spread of Covid (a disease which is clearly more electoral than seasonal, given how it has disappeared from the headlines this month). He has just approved the supply of heavy world-class state-of-the-art artillery to the Ukrainian front line against Russia. He clearly got a kick out of declaring ‘we are at war’ back in March 2020 as he closed down and curfewed the country – enough, perhaps, to be tempted to try it again before too long.
But as Orwell wrote, if there is hope, it must lie in the proles. The real losers of this election are not Le Pen or Zemmour or Mélenchon, but the vast majority of ordinary people who are tired of Macron’s technocracy. In order to rule, he will now need to win their consent. At this stage, it’s not obvious that they are prepared to give it to him.