April 23, 2017


Emmanuel Macron : The meteoric rise of France's youngest presidential candidate (Lucy Williamson, 4/23/17, BBC)

Macron's long-awaited manifesto was launched one spring morning, in a glitzy meeting hall off the Champs-Elysees. Inside, with sunlight dancing through the French windows, smartly-dressed waiters served orange juice and coffee to queues of waiting journalists.

The launch was days after the Hollywood film La La Land won several Oscars, sparking a snide new nickname for Emmanuel Macron - "Bla-Bla-Land". All talk, no policies.

But instead, his manifesto seemed to offer policies for everyone - help for farmers, for industry, for employers, for workers, for entrepreneurs. Tax cuts alongside support for those on low incomes. Spending cuts nestling next to €50bn of public investment.

He bounded onto the stage and spoke at length about his proposals. "People will ask if it's a programme of the left or the right," he said. "I want it to be a programme that brings France into the 21st Century."

A smiling Macron had promised to answer every single question from the hundreds of journalists packed into the hall. Three hours in, a French journalist brought up Macron's past as an investment banker, questioning whether he was capable of attracting working-class votes.

It prompted a vehement tirade from the En Marche leader against the idea that he was part of a privileged elite. "I was born in a provincial town, in a family that had nothing to do with the world of journalists, politicians or bankers," he expostulated, clearly annoyed.

Macron can be sensitive about his background. The story he tells about himself is of a boy from outside the establishment, who rose to prominence through merit and hard work. "My grandparents were a teacher, railway worker, social worker, and bridges and roadways engineer, all came from modest backgrounds."

Alternative views on his roots and his rise can sometimes appear unwelcome.

"The fact that you worked for a bank and earned money is not such a bad thing in the UK," explains his friend Mathieu Laine. "In France, it's different. He always has to explain that it's not bad to have worked in the private sector. It's always the same question. [...]

Liberal economic reform, of the kind Macron advocates, is a divisive issue in France.

Left-wing stalwarts, including many of the unions, fiercely oppose making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff, set salaries, or extend working hours.

Macron has not done well with blue-collar workers, while his far-right rival Marine Le Pen is estimated to have cornered almost half that section of the vote.

Reacting to her former colleague's proposals, a senior member of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, exploded: "Up until now, Emmanuel Macron thought that being launched as a new product with a sparkling smile would be enough to be elected president. And I always say... when things are vague, there's a wolf.

His economic programme, said Aubry, "takes up the liberal agenda of the Anglo-Saxons in the 1980s. It's about reducing public services, reducing deficits, and for workers to work more and be paid less."

There are plenty of centre-left Socialists who agree with the need for economic reform, and Macron has described himself as "a man of the left", but mentor Alain Minc says there is something different about what he's offering.

"He's a leftist liberal, and that is new in French politics," he says. "There has been a social democrat wing in the Socialist Party but he believes much more in the strengths of the market."

"He's a Blairist," he concludes. "He's Tony Blair's son."

Some would argue that he has gone further than the former British prime minister, in the later stages of his campaign, in an attempt to win over right-wing voters. But cross-party appeal has never been easy.

In order to try and pass his economic reforms, during his time as minister, Emmanuel Macron turned to right-wing MPs for help.

"It was a nightmare for him," says his friend Mathieu Laine. "A lot of these [right wing] MPs said, 'Oh, the Loi Macron is a very good bill, but as it comes from the left, we won't vote for it'. It was the beginning of the idea, among our very small group, that we should break this way of doing politics."

For Macron, politics in France is no longer a battle between right and left ideology, but one between protectionism and globalisation. His staunchest adversary is not the Socialist Party he deserted, nor the Republican Party of Francois Fillon, but the closed-border, anti-liberal policies of Marine Le Pen.

Tony Blair only had to get Labour to accept Adam Smith.  Mr. Macron has to force feed it to an entire country.

Posted by at April 23, 2017 6:04 PM