So it’s Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen once again, and for many millions of French that is a deeply depressing prospect. There were violent protests in the Brittany city of Rennes shortly after the result of the first round of voting was announced, as an estimated 500 people vented their anger against ‘fascism’ and ‘capitalism’.
Around the same time I received a call from my sister-in-law in the south of France. She was in despair, this working-class socialist, at once more being forced to choose between Macron and Le Pen.
But it’s her ilk who will decide the outcome of the second round on 24 April. Jean-Luc Mélenchon received 21.9 per cent of the vote – approximately 7.6 million ballots – of whom the majority were 18 to 34 year-olds. He polled best among this demographic, while Le Pen topped the count among the 35 to 64 age range (she was second to Mélenchon among those aged 25 to 34). The only age group dominated by Macron was the over 65s, where he was by some margin the most popular candidate.
This is dangerously unhealthily.
Those whose working lives are over, those on – in general – comfortable pensions with no mortgage are content with the incumbent. This is also the demographic who most approved of Macron’s draconian Covid measures, the passport, the masks, the shutting down of society. This is the generation of ‘Soixante-huitards’, Baby Boomers to Brits. Half a century ago they were radicals and revolutionaries but in their dotage they are rather smitten with their ‘president of the rich’.
A good many senior citizens did not vote for Macron, of course, but they tended to be working-class men and women, highlighting the ominous faultline that has appeared in France in the last five years. ‘Two social and cultural blocks face each other,’ explains the pollster Jérôme Fourquet in Monday’s Le Figaro. ‘Macron, whose appeal is much stronger the more we climb the social ladder, as well as among the retired who come from the centre right… and Marine Le Pen, whose principal supporters are concentrated among those on more modest salaries, those still working and who are in difficulty in contrast to the affluent strata of society and the retired.’
According to Fourquet, it is obsolete to think of the divide in France in terms of left against right; rather it is between the haves and the have nots.
The yellow vest movement embodies this new cleavage, uniting men and women who a decade ago would have described themselves as socialists or right-wingers but who now go by the collective ‘The Forgotten’. A similar heterogeneity was in evidence last summer when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across France to protest against the Covid passport.
I attended several demos from both protest movements and not once did I hear demonstrators chanting their support of Le Pen or Mélenchon. There was only one name on their lips, and that was spat out with a cold hatred: ‘Macron, Démission!’ [resign] they hollered over and over as they trod the streets.
He declined their advice and he is favourite to win a second term, although a poll on Monday morning (the polls were impressively accurate in the first round) predicts that it is going to be very tight between him and Le Pen.
But whoever wins on Sunday week they will have to preside over a country that is fractured, fed up and spoiling for a fight.
Last year a group of retired senior military officers published an open letter in France warning of an impending civil war. They were right to air their anxiety although they were wrong in pinpointing Islamic extremists as the enemy within. They are too few in number to spark any serious social unrest; the conflict brewing in France is between the anywheres and the somewheres, the globalists and what Macron mocked as the ‘resistant Gauls’. It is the well-off against the downtrodden Proles.
France has been here before, and it never ends well.