Every politician in France is on manoeuvres. Vast chasms have opened up in the anti-Le Pen coalition and the country faces another two-round election for the National Assembly in June. It’s likely that a fractured and dysfunctional legislature will emerge, complicating or even making impossible the program proposed by president-elect Emmanuel Macron.
Nonetheless, Macron will still be hoping that amidst this electoral entropy he can push his own slate to the forefront. This is a big ask. Possibly only about 20 per cent of voters supported him for the presidency for any reason other than he was not Marine Le Pen. His program is either not understood or not supported by the vast majority of voters. His ambition to secure a majority in the assembly looks impossible to me. Perhaps he has some secret sauce.
In a clever bit of rebranding, Macron’s movement is changing its name to La République En Marche, as it seeks to be become more of a party, and less of a cult. The name co-opts the identity of the Republic itself, and might appeal to voters for the defeated Republican party. It is also the name of a scorching parliamentary chronicle authored by Emile Zola. Macron is without doubt bien cultivé.
When Macron does announce his full slate of candidates, his choices will be revealing. Will his candidates truly represent a rupture from the past, a rainbow coalition of fresh faces, or will he feel compelled to include representatives of the very political class that he pretends to reject? Probably some from each column. He has already chosen Édouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre who double-dips as a deputy, as his prime minister. Philippe has been both a socialist and a republican in his day – perhaps a perfect representation of the chameleon character of the Macron movement. Inevitably, he is a graduate of Sciences-Po and the École Nationale d’Administration.
The Front National is basically dead. Marine is at home, exhausted; her glamorous niece Marion has quit and Jean-Marie is unspeakable. The party now has no leader, no ideas, no bench of young pretenders in waiting, and no clue how to reinvent itself. It was already split before the election and will have to do more than change its name. Everything about it is toxic. Marine Le Pen was a brave candidate who stood up to the party’s extremists but even she must recognise that there’s nowhere to go. The idea that she might resurrect herself and go on to win five years from now seems far fetched.
This means that her 10 million voters are up for grabs. Candidates who have been hoping to represent the Front in the Assembly elections now find themselves with a party that has no identity and no clear idea where it is going.
The Republicans are split. Some might align with Macron, others will seek allies on the right. Sarkozy isn’t done but is unloved by the country. Fillon will be spending more time with his lawyers. Juppé is too old. François Baroin, the mayor of Troyes and finance minister under Sarkozy, is younger and more presentable but he would inherit a party that is less a man of war than drifting wreckage.
The left is splintered into numerous groupuscules. The socialist party as we know it is finished. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, former minister Christiane Taubira and Lille mayor Martine Aubry today launched their own splinter within a splinter movement, ‘Dès demain,’ or ‘Tomorrow’. Manuel Valls looks like defecting to Macron (even though he hates him). Benoît Hamon, the defeated PS candidate, says he will launch his own movement. Jean-Luc Mélenchon already has one.
And then there may also be many independents, such as Emmanuelle Duverger, a lawyer, writer and wife of the mayor of Béziers Robert Menard. She will appeal to both disabused frontists, republicans and possibly even some on the left. I can’t know how many similarly well-positioned independents might try their chances.
The voters are bemused. Macron skated into the Elysée with what seemed an overwhelming mandate but more people abstained, voted blanc or nul, or voted for Le Pen, than voted for Macron. He is much weaker than he seems.
When François Hollande was elected president five years ago, under the slogan Le changement c’est maintenant, he went on to win a majority in the assembly that still failed him. Half a million more people are unemployed at the end of his term than the beginning and the country remains in a state of emergency in which many civil rights have been suspended and heavy censorship has been imposed on social media. Hollande is beaming now that his acolyte Emmanuel Macron has replaced him, but he has handed his successor a poisoned chalice.
Jonathan Miller is an elected councillor in the south of France. He tweets @lefoudubaron