There were times during last night’s televised debate between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron when it resembled more a playground slanging match than a pitch to become president of France. The National Front leader and her En Marche! counterpart traded insults, exchanged stares and did their best to shout each other down during two-and-a-half hours of enthralling but unedifying television.
A snap poll taken by French broadcaster BFMTV shortly after the dust settled on the extraordinary encounter showed that 63 per cent of people believed Macron had come out on top, while an online poll in Le Parisien newspaper also has the centrist candidate as the clear winner. There had been rumours in the French press before the debate that Macron would walk off set if Le Pen became too personal in her attack. His camp denied any such suggestion, and in the event the 39-year-old withstood a series of insults from Le Pen, who described him as arrogant, a marketing machine and a cold-hearted banker.
Not that Macron just sat there and took the abuse. He gave as good as he got, mocking Le Pen for symbolising the ‘spirit of defeat’, and continually calling her a ‘liar’, and the ‘high priestess of fear’ whose hate would ‘bring civil war to France’.
‘Virulent’ was how Le Monde described the debate, while Le Figaro said it was marked by ‘unprecedented brutality’, and was a far cry from the first such presidential confrontation in 1974, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand swapped sharp but civilised blows. On that occasion Giscard d’Estaing emerged victorious, producing the most memorable line when he gently explained to his Socialist opponent that he didn’t have a monopoly on the soul.
Le Pen and Macron aren’t in the same class as those two statesmen but the one-liners