June 14, 2024
Should Le Pen be elected, she would find assembled against her a hostile coalition of enemies drawn from Left and Right, and probably led by France’s answer to Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

France’s next leader will inherit a tinderbox

Whoever is announced as France’s next president at eight o’clock sharp tonight, whether Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen, had better savour their victory lap. For awaiting them on Monday will be a country more sharply divided than at any time since 1940 – and a government enjoying the genuine support of, at best, a third of the electorate. Either would face a toxic coalition of citizens united more by their detestation of the winner than any positive sentiment. That is not a good place for a country to be.

It used to be reasonably easy to pick your side in a French presidential run-off, because the words “Right” and “Left” still had a meaning. This is no longer the case; and Macron must bear the blame. His shock victory in 2017 – that of an unknown technocrat who’d never stood for elected office (you don’t need to be an MP to be a minister in France) – can be explained by an older French political reflex in times of crisis: Bonapartisme.

A graduate of ENA and former finance minister, Macron ticked the competence box. He was young, looked enthusiastic, and intensely annoyed the old political warhorses on either side of the aisle. He miraculously seemed to offer a safe answer to the “kick the incumbents out” reflex that is never entirely absent from French politics. Macron campaigned as the candidate of a new world, beyond old, tired politics: he called this “En Même Temps” (at the same time). You could be both Left and Right, pick the best from both sides; policies, people, voting blocs. What mattered was “Notre Projet!” (our project; and by the first person plural he meant “mine”). What he really invented was Populism 2.0, and that is what the French got.

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