What Labour could learn from Monsieur Moderate

Published by The Mail on Sunday (7th May, 2017)

Three years ago he was unknown across France. His bid for the presidency was announced only six months ago. Yet today, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron seems almost certain to be elected president, the country’s youngest head of state since Napoleon.

Already he has shaken up the French system, smashing aside the two mainstream parties of Left and Right that have held the presidency since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958.

Now, if Macron wins today’s second-round run-off – and polls put him 20 points ahead of his loathsome far-Right rival Marine Le Pen – this former investment banker pledges to shake up his nervous nation too.

This election is a fierce struggle for the soul of a great European country, a battle between forces of nationalism and liberalism. His success also offers a lesson for our floundering Labour Party.

France’s economy remains sclerotic, with rampant youth unemployment. The country has been assailed by terror attacks, leaving it confused over how to tackle Islamist extremism.

Yet Macron is a defiant pro-European optimist, a devout supporter of globalisation in a land suspicious of free markets, and sympathetic to Muslims and migrants. His supporters tend to be wealthy, urban and better-educated.

Pitched against him is a pessimist who claims to stand for ‘the forgotten’ masses. Le Pen wants to close borders, erect trade barriers, slash migration, tax firms that hire foreigners, and strengthen ties with Vladimir Putin.

Their two-hour debate last week was electric. Le Pen accused Macron of being a ‘smirking banker’ and soft on terrorism, while he responded angrily that she was a lying ‘priestess of fear’ whose policies would lead to ‘civil war.’

His determination to snare his wife Brigitte showed the audacity that defines his life. The relationship began when he was 15 and she was a teacher at his Jesuit school, a married woman 24 years his senior, with three children. This same ambition and relentless energy took him in four years to the top of a bank, making him a millionaire.

But is he a chimera? Is he just another smart politician like Tony Blair, who reflects whatever voters want to hear with his ambiguous talk of change but will shrink in the spotlight – or is he strong enough to reform France?

Macron is liberal in French terms. He is a courageous, likeable moderate who has challenged political conventions and seems genuinely intent on loosening some restrictions that choke the sluggish French economy. Yet for all his talk of a new politics, Macron has cleverly adopted the tools of populism to pose as an outsider.

He is forging a modern update of the Socialist Party at a time when the Left is in disarray across Europe. His former party won a humiliating six per cent in the first round and – like Labour in Britain – is predicted to lose many seats in looming parliamentary elections.

So he fights under his own flag. He creates a new force in his image, even calling it En Marche! so that it bears his initials. He attacks the empty system he once served, and relies on social media, not party structures, to promote his cause.

Macron was mocked last year when he revealed his plan, but his gamble looks set to pay off in the most spectacular terms. And if the broken Labour Party fail to follow his lead, then they deserve to be trampled by the march of history.

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