An outright majority in France’s parliament for a movement founded just over a year ago is clearly a huge achievement. Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling force has captured the imagination of the entire world following yet another exceptional election win on Sunday.
Those left stunned by the blitzkrieg-style success of La République en Marche! (LREM, or The Republic on the Move!) should not, however, overlook a development that is arguably of far greater significance: the sudden death of Socialist France. That 351 out of 577 MPs will now make up the Macron cohorts in the National Assembly is remarkable, but the fact that a Socialist Party (PS) that was in government until last month will have as few as 29 seats is absolutely astonishing.
Such figures mean that the party of François Mitterrand, the longest serving president in the history of the Fifth Republic, is now a relatively powerless minority. François Hollande, who began his career as an advisor to Mitterrand, was a PS head of state with a comfortable parliamentary majority but he did not dare seek re-election because he knew wipe-out was coming.
Both Hollande and Mitterrand once represented the triumph of the romantic left – one in which apparatchiks inspired by the class struggle and the excesses of capitalism were able to fight for social justice from within the Paris establishment, rather than from the street. The PS galvanised the immense revolutionary spirit of the French people and turned it into a formidable democratic unit. Now it is an anachronism that could only muster 6 per cent of the vote during the May presidential elections that saw Macron enter the Élysée Palace.
In terms of historical developments, this is on a par with the decline of the British Liberal Party before the First World War. A radical new movement – Labour – hastened the demise of the Liberals in the UK, and in France LREM is having the same effect on the Socialists.
Hollande’s incompetence had a great deal to do with this. Before the start of his five-year tenure in 2012, he said: “I don’t like the rich”. His attempts to introduce a top rate of income tax of 75 per cent led to entrepreneurs leaving France. The result of such initiatives was predictable enough: unemployment rocketed, along with the cost of living, as violent street demonstrations became the norm. Just like under Mitterrand in the early Eighties, U-turns were essential so as to prevent economic collapse.
In Hollande’s case, this involved appointing financially astute civil servants such as Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild banker, to try to bail the country out. Contrary to silly myths, Macron was by no means Hollande’s protégé. He was not even a member of the PS while an unelected finance minister, and was certainly not brought in to keep the Socialists in power under another name. Macron was solely seen as a bright problem-solver who could get things done.
Instead of using talent like Macron to bolster their overall image, however, the PS split between market-friendly social liberals, and the hard left. Most disastrous of all was the manner in which senior ministers just gave up on their party once it was obvious that Macron would prevail.
It was Hollande’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a classic PS success story who rose from Spanish immigrant to the second highest office in the French state, who announced that the party was “dead and gone”, and that he wanted to join LREM. This was within a couple of days of Macron’s presidential victory.
Perhaps the most disgraceful – and most telling – conduct came from Ségolène Royal, another of Hollande’s most senior lieutenants who was drawn to LREM in recent weeks. Not only was she a former PS presidential candidate, but the mother of François Hollande’s four children. Despite failing to win a parliamentary seat in 2012, Royal seemed to believe that entitled dinosaurs like her had a right to govern thanks to nepotism.
Hollande caused outrage when he made the mandate-less Royal his Ecology Minister in 2014. The deeply cynical Royal even expressed anger and surprise towards Macron when he declined to keep her on in the job this month.
Champagne socialists are referred to as la Gauche Caviar (the Caviar Left) in France, and there are plenty of others like Royal: those who owe their pampered, moneyed lifestyles to the PS, but who betray democratic socialism whenever it suits them. There was no question of them standing up for their party in the face of the Macron Miracle. They simply capitulated.
LREM is not a party in the conventional way that the LR and PS are. It is a voting bloc with Édouard Philippe, an LR veteran as Prime Minister, and plenty of PS turncoats also in Macron’s cabinet. New recruits who will now form the “presidential majority” in Parliament include scores of ordinary people from civil society, along with other pragmatic (some might say opportunistic) politicians from the left, the right, and the Christian democrat MoDem group. The proportion of women in the National Assembly is close to 40 per cent for the first time.
Yes, turnout was low in the second round of parliamentary elections (almost 43 per cent), and there are already concerns about the possibility of an unrestrained “hyper-presidency”, but opposition to Macron is, in fact, just as likely to come from within his eclectic coalition as it is from outside. LREM rejects extremism, whether from the far right National Front or the radical leftist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).
A vital rebooting of French democracy is underway, as a progressive young President tries to halt the march of aggressive populism. Macron is not dictating any ideology, nor indeed any rigid programme. He is a consensus politician, who is prepared to listen, and to compromise.
In such circumstances, the PS had every opportunity to fight for its core objectives. Instead, it displayed a shameful defeatism that belies its important role in the development of modern France.
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