Gavin Mortimer

Macron has taken this election for granted

Macron has taken this election for granted
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Things are going from bad to worse for Emmanuel Macron, and for the first time political commentators in France are considering the possibility that he might not win a second term. The latest poll, carried out for Le Figaro, has him one point ahead of Marine Le Pen in the voting intentions of the people canvassed.

Brexit and Trump have taught us not to put all our trust in polls but there’s no denying that Macron’s election campaign is in trouble. As I wrote yesterday, this time last month he was 18 points clear of Le Pen and a racing certainty for a second term.

Where has it gone so wrong? Macron has only himself to blame. Too complacent, too cocksure, he assumed that his re-election was in the bag – and that was even before his shuttle diplomacy in February as Russia amassed its troops on the Ukraine border.

The French approved of his attempt to persuade Putin not to attack, and his ratings rose to a record 33 per cent. Macron took this as a sign that styling himself as the nation’s war leader was all he had to do by way of campaigning.

As a consequence he’s hardly been seen on the home front in the last six weeks, the only one of the 12 presidential candidates absent from the main television debate. But the French have moved on from the war in Ukraine, disturbed as they are from the pictures coming out from Mariupol and Bucha. Their overriding concern has switched to the economic consequences of the conflict and a recent survey disclosed that 43 per cent are ‘very worried’ in this regard.

They want to know what measures candidates will implement to prevent the cost of living crisis spiralling out of control. Le Pen has addressed these concerns, so too has Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the veteran left-winger, whose stock has been continually rising in recent weeks. Those French who like a flutter are even wondering if they should put a few euros on a Le Pen vs Mélenchon second round.

An absurd idea? Perhaps. But don’t underestimate the enmity millions of Frenchmen and women have for Macron. They really hate him, this ‘president of the rich’, as they christened him back in 2017. The recent revelations concerning Macron’s use of private consultancy firms could not have come at a worse time, and the fact that the company at the centre of the controversy is American, McKinsey, makes it even more toxic. The government has spent some €2.4 billion of public money on these firms since 2018 and yet it is alleged that McKinsey has failed to pay corporate taxes on their fees. Le Pen has described it as a ‘state scandal’.

McKinsey deny the claim and Macron has tried to brush it off as much ado about nothing, but on Wednesday France’s financial prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation into the use of private consultancy firms and allegations of fraud. The decision came 24 hours after a magazine published an open letter from a group of magistrates in which they expressed their surprise that the prosecutor had not launched an investigation. They called this ‘abnormal’ and wondered why Macron appeared to have a free pass when, during the 2017 presidential campaign, an investigation had been swiftly launched into allegations of malfeasance against the centre-right candidate François Fillon.

Wednesday was not a good day for Macron. As well as the prosecutor’s decision, the family of Samuel Paty, the schoolteacher brutally murdered by an Islamist in October 2020, announced that they are suing the ministries of education and interior for ‘non-assistance of a person in danger’. Also taking legal action against the state is the family of Yvan Colonna, the Corsican independence terrorist, murdered in a prison gym last month by an Islamist. They attribute his death ‘to a series of administrative dysfunctions’.

Yet perhaps the most damaging moment for Macron of this election campaign may turn out to be a remark he made last week. During a walkabout in the west of France he was asked what he thought of a local man, a farmer, who had shot dead one of a gang of four burglars who had broken into his property. The farmer has been charged with murder although he claimed self-defence, saying he was protecting his three-year-old daughter. Macron sided with the dead man, declaring he ‘was against self-defence’, adding: ‘We are a constitutional state. There are rules, otherwise we will become the Wild West’.

It was an instinctive response from Macron, and a disastrous one, revealing just how disconnected he is from the average voter. As Le Pen and Eric Zemmour regularly point out, France is already the Wild West. Violent crime is a constant problem and people are in despair at the lawlessness around them.

Macron’s advisors quickly embarked on a damage limitation exercise, saying his words had been taken out of context, but it was too late. His ratings have been on the slide ever since. Not only rich, not only arrogant but also out of touch. And perhaps soon out of office.