UK centrists who want to emulate Emmanuel Macron do not have far to look

En Marche's UK operation successfully targeted French expats in London through new ideas and intelligent tactics

Arjun Neil Alim
Friday 23 June 2017 16:46 BST
French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Theresa May after a joint press conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace on 13 June
French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Theresa May after a joint press conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace on 13 June (Getty Images)

On a warm Saturday evening in King’s Cross, 30-year-old Alexandre Holroyd is distributing leaflets outside the train station. His campaign literature promises a stronger economy, better security and smart Brexit negotiations. In itself this is not unusual; political parties often target commuter hotspots to grant their pamphlets a wider audience. But Holroyd and the team do not belong to the Conservative Party, nor are they enduring Corbynites. They represent French President Emmanuel Macron’s political start-up: La République En Marche (LREM).

For British politicians seeking to replicate Mr Macron’s middle-ground success, they need look no further than London, where En Marche UK was founded in September 2016 by Ygal El Harrar and the aforementioned Mr Holroyd. The UK branch of Mr Macron’s campaign targets France’s sizeable population here, with 250,000 French citizens living in London alone. They are an eclectic mix of students, blue-collar workers and managerial classes, some new arrivals while others have lived in Britain for decades. Despite these differences, there is one resounding similarity: a majority of them (51.12 per cent) voted for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the presidential election on the 23 April.

En Marche UK’s good news does not stop there: fully 96 per cent of UK-based French voters backed Macron in the second round of the presidential election two weeks later, with high turnouts in both rounds.

The party's success can partially be attributed to its efficient volunteer-led organisation. With communications through encrypted networks, they successfully planned canvassing operations in French expat hubs like South Kensington and Golders Green, as well as catching potential supporters as they debarked from the Eurostar at St Pancras. Their online campaign was equally smooth: locally-targeted French content with English translations proved popular with French residents and English journos alike. Real life "meetups" and meetings culminated on 21 February in a successful visit from Emmanuel Macron himself, with over 5,000 people in attendance.

After the election of President Macron, En Marche UK is continuing its work for the French parliamentary elections. Mr Holroyd who has been selected by LREM as the parliamentary candidate to represent French citizens in the "Northern Europe" constituency including the UK.

Holroyd is among the 52 per cent of Macron’s candidates who have never been involved in politics before. He declares at his meetings that he was “heartbroken” by Brexit and decided to enter French politics the day after the referendum. While he is clear that his job is not to interfere in British domestic politics, he affirms his commitment to the European project and further integration. His experience working as a regulatory specialist at FTI consulting in London, and previously in Brussels, leads him to support the creation of an EU finance minister and budget.

However, this election will be fiercely contested. The incumbent MP is Socialist Axelle Lemaire, a popular former minister in the Hollande government. Moreover, barely a quarter of registered voters made it to the polls in 2015, meaning a lesser number of dedicated supporters could swing it any which way.

But France’s expatriate population is exceptional: it experiences more deeply than others the new political divide of open and closed, and has proven receptive to Macron’s message of liberal globalisation. The future is never certain, but LREM momentum looks poised to leave its mark on Britain.

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