Macron increases power with electoral triumph
The president’s brand-new party is poised to sweep aside the establishment in France’s legislative elections. This is a stunning turnaround for the nation. Could the UK see a similar upset?
Their ranks include an ex-bullfighter, a mathematician and a former fighter pilot. Half of them are new to politics. Yet the candidates for La République En Marche! (The Republic On The Move!) are on course for a historic victory in this week’s legislative elections in France.
Emmanuel Macron’s one-year-old party currently holds zero seats in the National Assembly. However, it picked up 32.32% of votes in Sunday’s first round. After the second round, to be held next Sunday, it is projected to win up to 440 of the 577 seats — one of the biggest majorities since the war.
This is a staggering outcome for Macron, who became president last month, having never been elected to office before. Unlike the UK (but like the USA), France elects its leader directly; to govern effectively, the president then needs a majority in the Assembly. After a month of impressive leadership, Macron is about to be given just that.
Few would have predicted this one year ago. Macron launched En Marche! (as it was then known) in April 2016, while still a minister in François Hollande’s Socialist administration (he later resigned). His new movement was mocked. One fellow minister marked the launch by posting a link to a song called I Walk Alone.
Yet En Marche! was soon, well, on the move. Despite having worked as both a banker and a Socialist minister, Macron managed to position himself as an outsider, neither left nor right. His youthful optimism and unashamed love of the European Union won him hundreds of thousands of followers, many of them young. At rallies, he was greeted like a rock star.
Inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, En Marche! embarked on a “Grande Marche”, interviewing 25,000 citizens about their hopes for France. The result was a centrist manifesto that mixes pro-business reforms with social liberalism and green policies.
Macron will shortly be given the power to enact that manifesto. Party leaders in the UK, which is in political turmoil, are looking on in envy. Could an outsider like him take power over here?
Plus ça change
Not likely, say some. In France, an outsider can win the presidency through sheer energy and charisma, then use their momentum to gain a majority. The UK’s parliamentary system favours large, stable parties that have a widely spread support base. That is why Labour and the Conservatives have dominated for a century.
Don’t be so sure, reply others. For many, Labour is now too left-wing, and the Conservatives have drifted to the right since Brexit. More than ever, there is demand for a centrist, pro-EU party. And if the past few years have told us anything, it is that we can take nothing for granted. Bring on the British Macron.
- Would you vote for Macron if you could?
- Should the UK have a directly elected president, like France and the USA?
- If you founded your own political party, what would it be like? In groups of four, come up with a name, a logo, a slogan and three key policies.
- What is the biggest problem in your neighbourhood? Find out who your MP is, then write him or her a letter, drawing attention to the issue.
Some People Say...
“The status quo leads to self-destruction.”— Emmanuel Macron
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Macron is keen to loosen France’s strict employment laws, such as the 35-hour week, and slash corporation tax. He has promised €50 billion for investment in job training, renewable energy and infrastructure. He wants to give 18-year-olds a €500 “culture pass” and ban the use of mobiles in schools for under-15s. He is a talented pianist, and has written a novel about Spanish conquistadores.
- What do we not know?
- How much success this political novice will have in implementing his ideas. A big majority will give him the mandate to do so. But pro-business reforms can meet with stiff resistance in France, as Macron knows from his time as an economics minister. His critics also point out that turnout in the first round was only 49%, arguing that this undermines his authority.
- New to politics
- Macron fulfilled a pledge that 50% of his party’s candidates would never have held a political post.
- National Assembly
- France’s main law-making body. It is the equivalent of the UK’s House of Commons.
- The party’s closest rival, the right-wing Les Républicains, won 21.56%. The far-right Front National took 13.20%.
- Second round
- In a constituency, if no candidate picks up 50% of the votes in the first round, all those with more than 12.5% head to a second-round face-off.
- Impressive leadership
- Macron has been praised for his tough, proactive stance on Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. When the former pulled out of the Paris climate accord, Macron reacted by inviting scientists to conduct their research in France. A video in which he calls on the world to “make our planet great again” went viral.
- François Hollande
- Hollande was so unpopular that he became the first French president not to seek reelection since the war.
- Drifted to the right
- Under Theresa May, the party has become increasingly committed to a “hard Brexit” — partly to appeal to UKIP supporters.