Steerpike

Macron and Barnier chase the nationalist vote

Macron and Barnier chase the nationalist vote
JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images
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For centrists of a certain age, few names are more likely to tug the heartstrings than Emmanuel Macron and Michel Barnier. In the halcyon days of 2017, the two Frenchman seemed the epitome of all that was chic, calm and above all rational: the former a fresh-faced Élysée outsider who made moderation great again; the latter a silver-haired successor to the tradition of Talleyrand as the EU's Brexit negotiator.

But four years is a long time in politics and both men have undergone something of a transformation. Plagued by protests and the pandemic, Macron has shelved much of his ambitious reform programme, embarking instead on populist crowd-pleasers as fears have grown over immigration and security. Ahead of next May's contest, he holds an average of 26.1 per cent first-round preferences, with Marie Le Pen and Eric Zemmour breathing down his neck in second and third respectively. Thus, with six months to go, the great white hope of Europhilia has drastically changed tack. Gone is the talk of 'nationalism is betrayal'; in its place is a sabre-rattling migrant hawk, railing against Brexit Britain at every chance. 

And such a tilt to the right is not merely confined to policy, but rather includes the very trappings of the state, with today's revelation that the official tricolore has had a makeover. Macron's office ordered the blue in his country's flag to be darkened to bring it into line with how it looked after the French revolution. The move is a direct reversal of President Giscard d'Estaing's decision in 1976 to introduce a brighter blue on the tricolour to match that on the flag of Europe. So much for European fraternité...

As for Barnier, he seems to have become more Brexity than the Brexiteers. Steerpike has enjoyed watching his increasingly desperate attempts to woo the centre-right these past six months, from backing a migrant ban to attacking the European Court of Justice and proposing a national referendum on immigration numbers. This weekend he went even further, celebrating France's 'great' colonial history and declaring:

Our country is a wonderful country and has a wonderful history. I have not repented. I do not apologize for our history. Thanks to France’s overseas territories, we have a presence all over the world. France is a great power and will continue to do so!

It's all a far cry from when he denounced Brexit as a vote driven by 'nostalgia for the past' and 'the hope for a return to a powerful global Britain.' Mr S suspects that, looking at what has become of their favourite Frenchmen, cosmopolitan right-on Europhiles in the UK and beyond will be thinking the same thing: merde!

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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