M. Macron has just eclipsed Le Pen by 65% to 35% in the French Presidential run off. The E.U. are presenting his victory as a triumph for European values, whatever they are, whilst many international leaders are breathing a sigh of relief. The forces of populism are being resisted, the nationalists are being turned back and other platitudes are being trotted out. Even the UK Prime Minister is warmly congratulating the supposed centrist leader of the En Marche movement. Could there be another explanation?
Almost twenty years ago Tony Blair was elected to govern the UK, here was a young charismatic leader, who seemed to offer a middle way. The “Third Way” proposed by Blair, and Bill Clinton in the USA was, in its simplest terms, a combination between the economic models of the right of centre revolutions of Thatcher and Reagan with social justice and cultural platforms that were presented as modern, progressive and fair. Blair, it appears, had at least one major advantage over Macron. The New Labour project had been running since at least 1992 and in some ways had been in development since 1983.
By the time of the 1997 UK General Election a virtual perfect storm was in place to ensure that Blair & New Labour would both be elected and then given a decent opportunity to put their program into place. The combination of an economy beginning to thrive but a government in terminal decline, after nearly twenty years in power, would ensure that the electorate would give the new broom a strong mandate and a decent honeymoon. In addition the New Labour project was honed and prepared to govern in a way that very few are. Years in the wilderness had ensured that policy had been developed and political skills perfected in a way that would keep the reviled former governing party out of the running for a long time and maybe permanently. New Labour ruled its ministers, members of parliament and party organisation with a rod of iron. Messers Gould, Mandleson, Campbell produced a machine that operated with ruthless efficiency and whose political antennae were second to non. The combination of these events produced a smooth and successful first full term and a landslide second majority four years later.
Fast forward to France 2016/17. A Socialist Party government is struggling in almost every regard and its president is the least popular in recent history. At one point his approval rating is in single figures. Only a couple of years before a young charismatic and determined politician is appointed to the government in order to implement new policies that will turn around the French economy. Emmanual Macron valiantly tries to invigorate the economy, like many before him he struggles to gain much ground. Protests grow and other issues begin to sweep the government as a whole. Terrorism, immigration, anti-globalisation and growing discontent with the EU, are beginning to form another perfect storm that will certainly drive the current government from power and may allow either a Thatcherite candidate (who turned out to be Fillon) or worse a Populist/Nationalist from the dreaded Front National (Marine Le Pen) to gain power. It does not take a genius to see the horror this would inflict up the elite of the French political class. The establishment begin to look within their own ranks to find a way to prevent this disastrous outcome. As with New Labour, following the sad death of John Smith, a possibility presents itself. The telegenic, confidence oozing, establishment educated and relatively unspoilt Macron is surely the best bet?
At this point a large problem still exists, there is no chance of Mr Macron succeeding from within the socialist party or any part of the mainstream establishment left. Their image is damaged and the president is a liability. No New Labour style project could be built and succeed in such a short time. The only way possible is for a new movement to be established, could the golden boy succeed in time? Maybe, if he was properly supported, and funded, after all it would probably only take 25% of the vote in the initial round. After that the establishment would all close ranks and Macron would defeat either type of opponent in the run off.
Although the above is simply a surface glance at events over the last year or two, it does not take a huge leap of imagination to see a strong grain of probability in such a turn of events. M. Macron’s campaign has been superbly plotted and professionally operated in a New Labour style manner ( So it appears from the recent leaks). The funding of a very expensive campaign has been shrouded in mystery. Events since the actual elections began, and then in the run up to the second round, show the closing of ranks. So it appears that France finally has their Tony Blair. How will that work out for them then?
France is late to the “Third Way” party but seems to be planning a shortcut. At least half of the mainstream right of centre grouping have already pledged their support. It took the centre right close to a decade to engage New labour on its own terms. The Conservative Party shifted three leaders, Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard before shifting their perceived position and how they conducted themselves. Thus France skips to 2005 and the unofficial consensus between Blairite and Cameroon centrists within UK politics.
However much more problematic for France is the fact that the perfect conditions that awaited Mr Blair do not await M. Macron. In 1997 the UK was accepting of the need for change, optimistic and in relatively benign waters economically. This is not the case for either France, or the wider EU, in 2017. No economic revolutionary, or state reduction work, has been done for him and no general shift in the public view, of what is needed to fix the major issues, is easily perceived. Can anyone manage to lead both an economic revolution and restore stability to the 5th Republic whilst keeping the majority of both public and establishment on side?
M. Macron is now left with the unenviable task of managing all these vital interests, as well as being the best hope for a struggling EU, without a recognised party or organisation behind him. France may well find it has elected it’s Tony Blair but without it’s New Labour.
To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby “It’s your job and you wanted it Mr President“