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Whoever declares victory in France this weekend, Macron’s reputation has been diminished

8 December 2018

2:08 PM

8 December 2018

2:08 PM

Emmanuel Macron, though it may be a little premature to be sure, appears to be maintaining the semblance of a grasp on his capital today. He seems to have done it much in the manner of Inspector Renault in the film Casablanca, with a roundup of the usual suspects.

The sun had barely risen on Paris before the Interior Ministry had announced hundreds of arrests. But few of these seem to have been made on the street. We have seen no camera-phone pictures of mass arrests. Rather, they were made in a pre-dawn sweep.

The police will have known exactly who they were looking for. The operation appears to have been successful, even if the notion of preventive detention might make some worry.

Notably absent today on the streets were the soldiers of the anarchist Black Bloc, otherwise known as Antifa, who were at the forefront of the riots last week. The police will also have rounded up some right-wing extremists, pour décourager les autres.


Also absent in large numbers, so far, is the criminal element responsible for last week’s looting. Strong controls including searches have blocked many of them, who would normally arrive on the RER commuter railway.

The rest of the gilets jaunes appeared to have walked directly into a trap. The police have admitted them onto the Champs Elysée, but have closed the side streets and at the Elysée end protecting Macron is a vast deployment of officers equipped with water canon, tear gas, flash-bang grenades and as a last line of defence, assault rifles.

Here they have been somewhat ignominiously kettled, a controversial but effective tactic imported from London. There is currently an enormous crowd, with nowhere to go. The shop windows have been fortified, and there’s nothing to eat nor place for a wee. They are mostly not those who would normally be looking for a fight. The provinces have also been relatively calm so far, but night falls at 5pm, and this may be when more militant elements assert themselves.

Mr Macron returned from Argentina on Monday furious with his prime minister and interior minister, who had presided over last week’s debacle. He took personal charge of the security dossier and thus far, the forces of law and order are doing much better. The provinces also seem relatively calm, albeit with motorway blockades here and there.

I would hazard that tomorrow, subject to events later tonight, Macron will resurface from his bunker and claim to have vanquished his foe. He would be crazy to be complacent. The disenchantment of the gilets jaunes is not going away.

Whoever ends up declaring victory this weekend, the damage to the Macron project remains probably mortal, and his reputation diminished. But I am filing this dispatch only at half-time of today’s match. Distressing events may still ensue.

Jonathan Miller can be found on Twitter at @lefoudubaron


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