It was Morten Morland who drew the first comparison between Emmanuel Macron and the story of the emperor’s new clothes. His cartoon is a deadly allegory, and not just for the vanity of Macron. Because the point of the story is not just that the emperor is a vain idiot, but that those who pretend otherwise are idiots, too.
The result of the election in France is really a no-brainer. Twenty-one million people voted, 21.9 per cent for Macron. The list backed by the recently thought extinct Marine Le Pen attracted 23.9 per cent. Greens, mainstream conservatives, various leftists and numerous crackpots shared the rest. The vote against Macron: 78.06 per cent.
The sycophancy and cowardice of much of the French media and Macron’s own courtiers is well known but the contortions to which they have put themselves trying to defend the presidency are truly exceptional. Various credulous British and American journalists are joining in with this deception.
It remains hard to argue that with nearly 80 per cent of his own voters against him, Macron will remain Europe’s saviour, especially when he is himself an enabler of the very populism he is supposed to vanquish. So a new strategy has emerged. The catastrophic failure of Macron is simply to be ignored. Indeed, BFMTV, a French news channel that occupies a privileged position on French digital platforms thanks to its cosy relations with politicians, argued on Sunday night that the election had been a heavy defeat for the right.
This chyron was displayed continually from 8pm when the polls closed and the first results became known. Viewers might be excused for wondering if BFMTV had buried the lead.
Subsequently, on BFMTV and in the other elite Parisian media, this theme of ignoring the president’s failure rapidly gained ground. Macron was still going to be a kingmaker in Europe, we were told. Hadn’t the greens done well! Le Pen’s mob did no better than win and no better than they’d won last time, so that was really failure, we were informed.
This is all totally ridiculous. The president has failed. Despite the hundreds of hours of airtime given him during the so-called Great National Debate, despite the entire machinery of government turned over to the promotion of the president, despite the stalwart support of BFMTV, the news network colloquially known in France as Macron TV, the president is a busted flush.
Only in the French media is it unnoticed that on every front, Macron has failed. The country has been in a state of political and social emergency for months. The bankers have moved to Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Notre Dame has been destroyed, only for Macron to announce an international competition to rebuild it as a monument to himself.
He’s annoyed the Americans, Germans, British, Italians, Poles, Hungarians and Czechs. Also, the Chinese and Russians. But mainly he’s infuriated the French. Unemployment has barely moved. French companies are exporting capital and delocalising production. No cull of civil servants has taken place (there are still 5.7 million of them feeding at the trough). French taxes and charges remain the highest in Europe. Macron may be only metaphorically naked (in truth, he habitually dresses like an undertaker) but he’s more politically naked and exposed than ever.
The rise and fall of Emmanuel Macron began with an earthquake and has been building ever since to a climax, which in time is likely to be spectacular. As this story worthy of Stendhal unfolds, Sunday’s European Parliament election is a moment to take stock. Macron is a hopeless leader and his lamentable performance in the European election shows he has learned nothing.
Jonathan Miller is the author of France a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square). He tweets at @lefoudubaron