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France, 23 April 2017
NEOLIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT FIGURE DEFEATS OTHER NEOLIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT FIGURES
After a Sunday afternoon stroll around the elegant Bagatelle gardens in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, there we were, two weeks ago to the day, dining al fresco, with the 7pm temperature still hitting 26° C, at the legendary La Rotonde restaurant in Montparnasse. Little did we suspect that this evening 23 April 2017 ex-investment banker Emmanuel Macron would choose this very same brasserie for a party to celebrate his victory today in the first round of the French presidential election – secure in the knowledge that, after the second round in two week’s time, nothing short of a miracle will prevent him from sitting down to dinner amid the gilded wainscoting and crystal chandeliers of the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the presidents of France.
With 97 % of the votes counted, the scores of the five leading candidates were as follows:
Emmanuel Macron (“En marche!”): 23.86 % of votes cast (8.4 million votes)
Marine Le Pen (“Le Front national”): 21.43 % (7.6 million votes)
François Fillon (“Les Républicains”): 19.94 %
Jean-Luc Mélanchon (“La France insoumise”): 19.62 %
Benoît Hamon (“Le Parti socialiste”): 6.35 %
The historic first-round result marked the rejection of the traditional political elite: the established left (Le Parti socialiste) and right (Les Républicains) political parties were both ejected from the race by a canny establishment opportunist, Emmanuel Macron. With an eye to the main chance, Macron snubbed the established political parties and established his own personal political machine – a “movement” not a party – in order to promote exactly the same policies as those espoused by the establishment parties and, coincidentally, give himself a better chance of snagging France’s top job.
In the second round on 7 May 2017, the two leading candidates in today’s first round – Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen – will duke it out for the presidency.
The reason why Macron has a racing certainty of winning is that two of the losing candidates in the first round – François Fillon and Benoît Hamon – have called on their supporters to back the “En marche!” (“Let’s get going!”) candidate in the second round and most of them are likely to do so. The retiring French President François Hollande (of the Socialist Party) has also appealed to voters to back Macron rather han Le Pen. The other losing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélanchon of the leftwing “La France insoumise” movement (“The France that refuses to kowtow”), has not declared a preference for either Macron or Le Pen, but many of his leftwing supporters are likely to back Macron if only to stop Le Pen from winning.
The youthful Macron (aged 39) with his matinée idol looks is often described in the media as either “an unknown quantity” – he has never stood for elected office – or as a “centrist”. Such a description is intended to demarcate him favourably from his “far right” rival Marine Le Pen. In fact, Macron is a bog-standard rightwing neoliberal opportunist whose “En marche!” platform differs little from those of this defeated rivals Les Républicains or Le Parti socialiste. He is equally pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-business and pro-globalisation.
Like his identikit counterpart in Spain, the Catalan Albert Rivera of “Ciudadanos” (“Citizens”)– Macron realized that voters had become tired of the old familiar political faces. He stepped forward to give them that new face. And that’s where it stopped. He intended to press on with the neoliberal free-market policies of his rivals while conning the voters into thinking they were getting not just a new face but new policies too. The voters will naturally discover this in due course – but by then it will be too late. By the time the scales fall from their eyes, Macron will be comfortably ensconced in the Élysée Palace.
Naturally, as he had little new to propose, for much of the election campaign Macron kept his cards close to his chest so far as policy pronouncements were concerned. Strictly speaking, Macron is not a member of a political party. He quit as Hollande’s economy minister last year and launched his own political movement – “En Marche!”- that was supposedly “neither left nor right”. He also pledged to “revolutionise” what he called France’s vacuous and decaying political system.
Antigone1984: That pledge can surely be categorised as pure waffle. Macron a revolutionary? Come again. When a politician says he is neither left nor right, you can assume with confidence that he is on the right.
Latterly Macron has been forced to flesh out his platform and reveal his establishment credentials. For example, he wants to weaken France’s labour laws; cut business taxes; reform the unemployment system; cut public spending but boost investment; and shrink the public sector while hiring 10,000 more police and gendarmes.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the likelihood of his victory in the second round caused stock markets and the euro to rise sharply on Monday 24 April 2017. The European Union’s neoliberal apparatchiks in Brussels were also naturally exultant at the prospect that “their man” in Paris was likely to win.
In a leader on Monday 24 April 2017, London’s neoliberal free-marketeering Guardian newspaper welcomed the Macron victory on Monday 24 April 2017 with characteristic hyperbole:
“The storming of the Bastille in 1789 sets the bar high. As a result, few phrases should be used with more circumspection than “French revolution”. But the result of the first round of France’s 2017 presidential election is an epochal political upheaval for France all the same. For the first time in the nearly 60-year history of the Fifth Republic the second-round contest on 7 May will be between two outsider candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Neither of the candidates of the established parties of left and right will be in the runoff…
“Now France must stand up again in two weeks’ time and complete the job by electing Mr Macron. There are only two in this race and French voters should do what they did in 2002 and rally to defeat the FN candidate on 7 May. Already, several on the centre-right have rallied behind Mr Macron. Others should follow, and so should leftwing voters too.
Mr Macron is the best hope of a deeply troubled but great country. Its problems range from inequality to unemployment, social divisions, terrorism, and a ruling elite with a strong sense of entitlement. Mr Macron comes from that class, is untested in many ways, is mistrusted on the left, and therefore needs to earn the voters’ trust afresh. He has been lucky in his rivals, on the left and on the right, and he was the first choice of only 23.7% of the voters. But he has been rewarded for the great political audacity of his centrist challenge to the ancien régime. Electing him in May is now the only way to open up the chance of progressive, liberal and pro-European reform in France. French voters have made a bold break with the past. Now they must finish the revolution.”
Antigone1984: This is, of course, complete rubbish. To bracket the first round win of Macron in this presidential election with the fall of the Bastille in 1789 is to take leave of one’s senses. The Guardian is right in saying that the establishment parties were knocked out of the race. But they were knocked out by a card-carrying member of the establishment with identikit policies to those of the establishment parties he defeated. That is why the stock market, EU Eurocrats and the neoliberal media are so delighted. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Macron is no Robespierre.
Looking ahead beyond this election, it would be wrong to ignore that fact support for the National Front is growing in France. The 7.6 million votes that Le Pen won today represent the strongest ever result for a National Front (NF) candidate. She gained 2.8 million more votes than her father and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 presidential election. While the NF looks unlikely to take the presidency on this occasion, there is no certainty that this could not happen at a future election if the party continues to attract supporters at the same rate as in recent years.
Appealing to an ageing white penny-pinched working-class demographic , the NF wants to slash immigration, clamp down on free trade, give priority to French citizens when allocating council housing, fix the state retirement age definitively at 60 and retain (instead of making more flexible) the statutory 35-hour working week.
The strength of the opposition to the NF across the political spectrum reflects the widespread perception, incessantly diffused by the neoliberal media, that its anti-immigration policies are based on racism and, in particular, hostility to Muslims. A good example of such media coverage can be found in the editorial from Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, which we cite below. Portraying the Front national as “a nationalist and xenophobic party manipulated by a cynical and opportunistic family”, Le Monde says that the party “is incompatible with our [ie France’s] values, our history and our identity”. By contrast, defenders of the NF claim that the party has cleaned up its act since the time it was run by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Antigone1984 does not have enough information to take a view on this question. However, we would make one point: wishing to cap immigration – for example, in the interests of a country’s national economy – does not, of itself, imply racism or even xenophobia.
In its editorial on Monday 24 April 2017 Le Monde, which essentially shares the same neoliberal views as the London Guardian, calls for a vote against Le Pen in the second round but warns against taking a Macron victory for granted:
“…..C’est arrivé, comme prévu, malgré une mauvaise campagne de la candidate FN, et un score en retrait par rapport aux différentes élections depuis 2012. Mais il ne faudrait surtout pas que la banalisation de ce résultat relativise la gravité de la blessure infligée à la nation. Pour la première fois, le FN vient de dépasser les 20 % de voix à une élection présidentielle. Sa candidate y a établi le record de suffrages de son parti, avec 7,6 millions d’électeurs, soit 2,8 millions de plus que son père au premier tour de la présidentielle de 2002. Pour la deuxième fois en quinze ans, un parti nationaliste et xénophobe, manipulé par un clan familial cynique et affairiste, se qualifie ainsi pour l’échéance majeure de notre système politique.
Cette récurrence devrait à la fois alerter sur l’état de notre démocratie, et déclencher, comme en 2002, un refus sans faille. Pour Le Monde, cette réaction ne souffrira pas la moindre ambiguïté. Nous avons redit, avant le scrutin, que le Front national est incompatible avec chacune de nos valeurs, avec notre histoire et notre identité. Logiquement, nous souhaitons donc la défaite de Marine Le Pen et appelons pour cela à voter en faveur d’Emmanuel Macron.
Mais le pire, le plus dangereux, le plus irresponsable pour l’avenir de notre pays, serait de considérer que ce prévisible-là est acquis, que la victoire du candidat d’En marche ! ne souffre pas l’ombre d’un doute. Une comparaison devrait suffire à convaincre de la fragilité de ce pronostic. Emmanuel Macron se lance dans cette deuxième partie de campagne avec 62 % des intentions de vote (selon Ipsos Sopra-Steria) là où Jacques Chirac avait conclu la sienne à 82,2 % des suffrages. Vingt points se sont évaporés en quinze ans. Comme se sont volatilisés les appels à manifester de 2002 ou la notion même de « front républicain » opposé au FN……
Le risque d’une abstention massive, un dimanche d’élection qui tombera au milieu du pont du 8 mai, est également loin d’être négligeable. Emmanuel Macron a donc moins de quinze jours pour démontrer à tous ces électeurs réticents qu’il a pris la mesure du choc subi par le système politique français.”
Whichever candidate is elected president in the second round on 7 May 2017, they will have to work hand-in-hand with a new National Assembly. Elections will take place in two rounds on 11 and 18 June 2017 to choose the assembly’s 577 members.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.