‘Party’s over’ as self-made politicians win

Self-made men: The politicians of the future stand for “an individual pledge and programme”.

Marine le Pen just resigned as head of her National Front Party, the ‘Trump manoeuvre’ of bucking the system. Tony Blair calls for tactical voting. Is it curtains for the political party?

In two weeks’ time, voters in France will be presented with this choice as their next president: Emmanuel Macron, the 39 year-old leader of En Marche! — a party that did not exist just over a year ago, or Marine Le Pen, leader of a far-right movement from the fringes of politics.

Sunday night’s results were a slap in the face for traditional politics in France. Neither the Socialists nor the Republicans, the two parties that have dominated French politics for 60 years, are represented in the final round of voting.

The world views of Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen could hardly be more different, but both are very modern politicians — and both bear striking similarities to Donald Trump.

Macron is a self-made politician. He does not have the backing of an old party machine; instead he is running purely on his own charisma and vision. If polls are correct, his one-man crusade to save France from the far-right will almost certainly end in victory.

To a great extent, Le Pen’s success has come despite her National Front party, whose associations with racism and Holocaust denial still make it unpalatable to a majority of voters. Last night she resigned as leader.

Everywhere, traditional party ties appear to be dying. Former British prime minister Tony Blair recently urged British voters to vote tactically to keep as many Conservatives out of Parliament as possible at the upcoming general election. “This is bigger than party allegiance,” he said to the BBC.

Another political entrepreneur whose pop-up party has shaken up politics is the Italian comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment Five Star Movement could take Italy out of the eurozone.

Some experts believe that big political parties belong to a past that was more impressed by institutions and that today it is easier for a self-made politician to engage directly with voters. Their “outsider” status means they are viewed with less suspicion.

Should we welcome the apparent long, slow decline of party politics?

Party poopers

Yes we should, say some. Political parties are designed for another age. Their entrenched histories and their need for compromise mean they form obstacles to progress. Political parties come complete with armies of spin doctors and wealthy donors, meaning they hamper the democratic process. Good riddance.

Wrong, reply others. The fact that political parties encourage compromise is one of their main benefits. Because of this, they guard against extremism. The alternative is much worse: self-made politicians gather cult-like followings, making politics a personality contest, rather than a calm discussion of carefully considered policies.

You Decide

  1. Is the decline of traditional political parties a good thing?
  2. How important is charisma in politics?

Activities

  1. Write a five stage guide to becoming a political self-starter.
  2. Design your own perfect political party, and come up with a short manifesto of its policies.

Some People Say...

“You only need two political parties.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Recent political events have demonstrated that you do not need to be from a mainstream political party to get into power. We know that traditional parties, particularly those on the centre-left, can no longer be sure of their futures in an age when voters are presented with more choice at elections.
What do we not know?
Whether these new formations will ever truly replace the old parties. Macron’s En Marche! movement has no representation in the French parliament, which is likely to frustrate his policies. Is it really possible to run a country competently without an effective party behind you?
What do people believe?
That the rise of social media has levelled the ground, enabling political self-starters to build up huge support very quickly.

Word Watch

En Marche!
Meaning “Forward!” or “On the March!”, Macron’s party was founded in April 2016. It is socially liberal, pro-EU and in favour of freer markets.
Socialists
For the Socialists, the night was especially dire: Benoît Hamon received just 6.35% of the vote, echoing the rapid decline of big centre-left parties across Europe, particularly the Dutch Labour Party and, if polls are correct, the British Labour Party.
Holocaust denial
Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine and the leader of the party from its founding in 1972 until 2011, called the Holocaust a “detail of history”. Marine Le Pen famously kicked her father out of the party in order to improve its image with voters.
Leader
Le Pen announced that she is stepping down — temporarily — wanting to be “a president for all French people”.
Tony Blair
Having campaigned against Brexit Blair called for Remainers to “rise up” against it.
Five Star Movement
The movement is asking supporters to choose its policies by crowdsourcing them on the internet. Grillo says the movement stands for ‘bottom-up democracy’ and ‘shared democracy’.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.