One of the must-have applications for smartphones in France is called C’est la Grève, which helpfully shows all the strikes ongoing at the moment, and those to come, with useful regional breakdowns. It’s indispensable for le planning and proof that French developers understand how to tailor digital products to local market demands. At the moment at the top of the list on my C’est la Grève app is a national and general strike this Thursday, which promises to be a key moment in what looks like an increasingly desperate effort to bring down Jupiter, Emmanuel Macron, president of the republic.
The French left, when they are not ripping each other to pieces, is throwing everything it has got at this week’s action, promising to shut down trains and planes, schools and clinics. There will doubtless be blockades of the motorways, which the French call operation escargot. I can’t understand why the cops don’t go out and bust those who block roads but my Gendarme friends tell me they haven’t enough manpower and their commanders have ordered them to back off.
I shall ride out the strike here in the village where I live, doubtful that the impact will be strong. Last time there was a national strike, my notaire advised its clients to go in the back door, because there was a sign on the front door, pretending to be on strike. Although Thursday’s strike will be annoying, will it really deflect Macron’s reform of the employment code? I doubt it. Another strike? So what. If there is any nation on earth that has grown indifferent to strikes, it is France. At the village café, the chatter is mainly about the bizarre butter shortage that has hit the country. On Twitter they apparently are chattering about #Beurregate. Never mind the general strike – what about the croissants?
Macron is vulnerable in the long run – and by long run I mean maybe years – because although he has, temporarily, almost absolute power, nobody really likes him, and the more we see of him, the shiftier and less likeable he becomes. Although there is so far no sign of a credible opposition. His ubiquity is dazzling, he is always everywhere. So far in November he has been in Paris berating his government’s useless cabinet. Ministers were reportedly shaken by the ferocity of his discourse. The Presidential jet squadron has never been so busy. He’s promising salvation in Guyane one moment, and then popping up in the hurricane-ravaged French Antilles the next.
There’s a side trip to see Mohammed bin-Salman in Riyadh which was spun in the French media as Macron at the side of the man of the hour, but in fact was for the practical purpose of pleading for former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who has reportedly been detained in Saudi Arabia. Then he’s back in Paris releasing balloons outside the Bataclan on the second anniversary of the massacre there. And now this weekend to Lyon, for the coronation of his spokesman, Christophe Castaner, as leader of En Marche, selected by an electoral college, with no consultation of the party’s wider membership.
All the moaning about this is unsurprising as it has been clear since day one that En Marche is not a political party as commonly understood, but purely the personal vehicle of Macron, and his backers. Suddenly to figure this out and protest, as the 100 En Marche rebels are doing this week, seems naive at best.
Quand même, Macron would be nuts to let his members – a rabble who signed themselves up on the Internet – select the party leader. That way leads to the sort of madness that afflicts the British Labour party. Is it possible to write down a number infinitesimal enough to indicate how little Emmanuel Macron will care that 100 members have walked out?
Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs was in Paris this week and he pronounced the atmosphere positively charged and the food delicious. He did not say he would be moving any actual bankers to Paris. Words are cheap and so far there’s been no stampede to Macron’s Paris. There’s been no downsizing of the state in France, nor much evidence of an investment-led revival.
The French economy has a long way to go to be effectively reformed and there are many reasons to doubt Macron can fix it but for all the talk of Macron crumble, he’s still going full tilt and, for the moment, he is all there is.
Jonathan Miller’s France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square) is out now