Monday 25 April 2022

The Diminishing Authoritarian Centre

You wouldn't think France had dodged a bullet if you have scanned the copy clattering off centrist laptops since last night. Emmanuel Macron is the first president to be re-elected in 20 years! The first president since De Gaulle to win a second term and enjoy a parliamentary majority! A triumph of common sense! The far right were seen off! The form of words are different, but the content is the same since the consciously elitist and purposely remote Macron won against Le Pen five years ago. To bring matters down to the earth of hard electoral facts, Macron lost eight points and Le Pen gained eight, while some 28% of French voters stayed home. That is to say 28% didn't see much difference between the authoritarian "centre" and the authoritarian right when push came to shove.

Casting our minds back to the previous write up in 2017, it forecast Macron neither understood how he became president nor that his policies - attacking labour, pushing the super rich, ratcheting up the authoritarianism and the racism - would prepare the ground for a future far right advance. Five years that saw this eventuality came to pass. He scraped in this time, and with the added bonus of not tacking left to scoop up Jean-Luc Melanchon supporters from the first round. A result for centrism then. Stick to the centre and leave it to French good sense to see off the far right. What does it matter if almost a third of voters don't turn out? A win is a win is a win.

Can Macron - and France - withstand five more years of complacency? I wouldn't like to chance it, but En Marche strategists looking at the age splits would find encouraging signs. Macron was the solid victor among the pensionable vote, walking away with 71%. This is quite an achievement and easily betters the retiree support the Tories rely on here. The overall property dynamic is not as attenuated as the UK's, but it's reasonable to assume the authoritarian politics the old largely respond to here finds its corollary over the Channel, and for similar reasons. However, despite Macron's anti-democratic tendencies he is no fascist and, when it suits, he portrays himself the heir of the Fifth Republic's secular, liberal virtues and the fact its founding is steeped in Gaullist myth about the man of action, of a leader rising above petty squabbles and acting decisively to save France. It's a peculiar strongmanism Macron leans into, but one with enough nostalgic pull and promise of stability.

And at the other end, there is the young. Again, confounding polling the 18-24s went for Macron by 61% versus Le Pen's 39%. That is, despite the National Front making hay with cost of living issues this direct appeal to their immediate interests fell flat among the two thirds who did vote. It's almost as if the the experience of class and the values arising from this position is not congenial to "post" fascist politics, no matter how much it tries softening its image. For the Macron strategists then, there's nothing to worry about. Unlike Britain where the Tories face a crisis of political reproduction because property, values, and the interests of their existing electoral base puts them at odds with working age people, not just the young, in France it appears the Macron-positive elderly will be replaced by the Macron-positive young.

A couple of points to skew this conclusion. For one, as explained previously, there are alternatives to voting for the least worst option and 41% of 18-24 year olds took it: they abstained. This exodus from engagement with establishment politics is more likely to benefit the left and the street movements, but it presents a problem of political reproduction of the Macron vote. If virtually-certain-to-vote pensioners are "replaced" by much more hesitant and conditional younger voters, the job of facing down a far right challenge next time becomes harder. Not as acute as the position the Tories are in, but enough to present the Macron project significant difficulties. Second, because working age cohorts between 25 and 64 found Le Pen much more congenial, the more the President keeps banging his public sector reform/working class bashing drum, the more he'll drive the opposition. One would hope this would go left, and with the good showing for Melanchon in the first round there are good opportunities for the left to build and intersect with this discontent. Plus the disproportionate support among younger voters, especially those coming of age between now and the next presidential elections, puts the left - assuming Macron stays his ruinous course - in with a shout of getting into the second round. But this is by no means a guarantee. Five more years of crackdowns, aloof government, and galloping prices could spur resentment to drive enough voters into the camp of reaction.

As for Macron's cheerleaders here, there is some recognition that things cannot go on as they are. And they are right to be worried. Given the dynamics this election has revealed, the next presidential election could see a left versus right battle with Macron's successor dumped out in the first round. That would not only underline the bankruptcy of centrist politics, but put them on the spot. Would our assorted liberal and centrist heroes advocate a vote for the leftist candidate to keep the fascist out? Going from our experiences during the Corbyn years, we know what the answer will be.

Image Credit


M said...

The next presidential election in 2027 could well see a left v right battle, but that won't mean Macron being knocked out because he can't run again. I think?

Anonymous said...

From a socialist's perspective, I would have thought it interesting that Macron overwhelmingly relied on the largely unproductive vote: wealthy retirees and a (relatively slim, given their natural tendency toward the 'compassionate' left) youth, while - unmentioned in many articles - nearly 50 percent of 'working age cohorts between 25 and 64', ie, the productive class, voted Le Pen.

Basically, one in two of all young and middle-aged adults voted Le Pen, and these are the people paying taxes and raising famililes, usually at the lower end of the scale.

It suits the left to celebrate keeping the far-right out, but surely it should be more relevant that the socialists got nothing and the very people the left supposedly exists to represent are voting for fascists?

Phil said...

That's right, M. Post amended to reflect that. One day I'll follow my own advice and not write at night when I'm knackered.

Unknown said...

President Mitterrand won a Second term: 1988–1995,and after dissolving the National Assembly, a Parliamentary majority.

Following his re-election, he named Michel Rocard as Prime Minister, in spite of their poor relations. Rocard led the moderate wing of the PS and he was the most popular of the Socialist politicians. Fran├žois Mitterrand decided to organize a new legislative election. The PS obtained a relative parliamentary majority. Four centre-right politicians joined the cabinet.