Not much to celebrate: Macron in London for De Gaulle anniversary as French local elections approach

While many Britons still in the grip of the Covid-19 crisis tend to think France has by comparison done quite well, the French themselves increasingly despair of President Emmanuel Macron.

This neo-Blairite ‘centrist’ poseur was once a media favourite, but as with his Canadian equivalent Justin Trudeau, even the docile press have started to perceive his essential shallowness. Fine words about national unity sound increasingly fatuous when, as in the last few days, a city such as Dijon is gripped by race war between Chechen and Algerian gangs.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle (far right) in 1941 with (left to right) Polish exile Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski; Canadian Corps commander Gen. Andrew McNaughton; and Winston Churchill – who was later alleged to have ordered Sikorski’s assassionation (see articles in the two most recent editions of H&D).

This weekend Macron is in London for celebrations to mark the 80th anniversary of Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s declaration in 1940 that rallied a minority of Frenchmen in an anti-German alliance with Winston Churchill’s British Empire.

(Presumably statues of these ‘racist colonialists’ will be protected for long enough to avoid embarrassment!)

Meanwhile France is preparing for the long-delayed second round of municipal elections being held in most of the country in nine days time (28th June). The first round was held way back on 15th March, but the second had to be postponed for three months due to the Covid-19 crisis.

These elections are in 35,000 communes across France, ranging from tiny villages to big cities. The three biggest cities – Paris, Lyon and Marseille – also have elections for arrondissements, roughly the equivalent of London boroughs, as well as city-wide councils.

Those communes with more than 1,000 electors vote on a two-round party list system, with the head of the winning list becoming mayor. To qualify for the second round a party list must poll above 10% in the first, but parties polling above 5% can negotiate to merge their lists with larger parties in advance of the second round, allowing many opportunities for horse-trading.

Serge Federbusch, the half-Hungarian, half-Algerian Jewish mayoral candidate in Paris for Marine Le Pen’s ‘far right’ National Rally (RN)

So in Paris for example, the incumbent Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo looks certain to win after striking a deal with the Greens to form a joint second round slate. The conservative slate in the French capital is headed by Rachida Dati, a half Moroccan, half-Algerian woman who once served as a spokesman and minister for ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. This conservative slate is headed for second place, while Macron’s ‘centrist’ slate, headed by yet another woman, is in third.

Greens polled very well across the country during the first round contests in March, which were also notable for very low turnouts due to both Covid-19 and general political disillusionment. For whatever reason these low turnouts seem to have contributed to quite poor results for the main French nationalist party, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN – formerly the National Front) as well as for the far left.

Le Pen’s RN – which traditionally struggles in these local elections because the two round system doesn’t suit ‘extremist’ parties – has been reduced to a small number of strongholds such as Hénin-Beaumont in the far north Pas de Calais region.

Despite forming a joint slate with the eurosceptic party Debout la France, the RN managed only 8,114 first round votes (1.5%) across the whole of Paris, where its mayoral candidate was ex-socialist Serge Federbusch, son of Hungarian and Algerian-Jewish communists. This was down from 42,560 votes (6.3%) in 2014.

However the good news for Le Pen (and perhaps also for the struggling President Macron) is that the conservative right is also failing. For example, the incumbent conservatives were beaten into second place by a green-socialist slate in Marseille.

Le Pen’s RN slate finished third in Marseille with 19.4% (having been runner-up with 23.2% at the previous elections in 2014), but whereas the greens, socialists, communists and all but one of the ultra-leftist factions have united for the second round, the conservatives still regard Le Pen’s movement as ‘beyond the pale’, so they will continue to oppose each other.

So long as there is no ‘mainstream’ conservative revival, Marine Le Pen is likely to qualify for the run-off in the next presidential election, either against Macron or some sort of socialist.

Marion Maréchal – niece of Marine Le Pen and granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen – might be the future of French nationalism.

One remaining question is whether Macron will run his full presidential term until 2022, or choose to call a ‘snap’ election this year and seek a fresh mandate post-Covid. Despite his unpopularity, this might prove his best bet due to a divided opposition, but the question then would be whether this election (in 2020 or 2022) is Marine Le Pen’s last shot.

The RN leader has made a lot of enemies with her efforts to purge the RN of traditional nationalist themes. An example of this could be seen this week, as Marine Le Pen sought in vain to be included in the ranks of mainstream politicians paying tribute to De Gaulle.

The next presidential campaign will be her third. Will she be allowed a fourth? Or will French nationalism once again head for realignment under a new leader, perhaps Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal?

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