Jonathan Miller

The Macron Paradox

The French President is unloved but unbeatable

The Macron Paradox
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With just 24 days to go before the first round of French presidential voting, the political landscape has become borderline surreal, a dream state of self-induced hallucinations. The war in Ukraine has utterly overshadowed the vote. Any resemblance to an actual democratic contest might now be regarded as coincidental.

If the current polls are right, Macron will enter the second round with Marine Le Pen in a straight replay of 2017, with the same inevitable result. I have my doubts about these polls. But it might not matter much who faces Macron: unloved yet unbeatable.

Macron isn’t even campaigning. He’s at 30 per cent in polls for the first round, campaigning through a torrential downpour of electoral bribes. That after this binge there will be a bill is unmentioned by the media, which has been feasting on subsidies itself, much of it in the form of government advertising. France Inter, the state broadcaster, is known here as Radio Macron.

As Macron poses as a war leader in his commando sweater like some kind of Parisian Volodymyr Zelensky, the other candidates struggle to make an impression. Marine Le Pen on an optimistic 20 per cent remains a deeply unimpressive figure. Her words are wooden, her program for France inchoate and incoherent, her tack to the centre expedient, yet second only to Macron in the polls.

Zemmour and Pécresse are supposedly neck and neck at around 11 per cent each. The polls would have to be spectacularly wrong for Zemmour to make it, but it’s not inconceivable that they are.

Pécresse, of the Républicains, continues to fail to cut through. Some of my more hallucinated colleagues are even touting socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon coming up the left lane, uniting the various leftist factions who hate each other and him. This is desperate on a par with prognostications by the same journalists that Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, the pink-green Socialist, was a serious candidate.

Macron has led a European response to Putin’s war in which the Poles, not the French, have emerged with moral leadership. Two of France's largest companies, Total and Danon, continue to do business in Russia. Macron’s German partners want to appease Putin further. No significant French arms have gone to Ukraine because after a decade of fruitless war in Africa, the French army is literally out of ammunition. The armouries are almost empty. 

Voting is on 10 April and 24. Macron has sent his prime minister out to bribe voters with their own money. Petrol and diesel is to be subsidised throughout April by 15 cents per litre. Billions more are being promised for manufacturers, farmers and small businesses. He is even promising a degree of autonomy to the disputatious Corsicans as he attempts to nail down votes.

Against this, the fractured opposition is almost helpless, starved of campaigning oxygen, deprived even of the candidate that they are trying to oppose. Macron is now planning to consolidate his power at the forthcoming legislative elections, following which he plans to assemble some kind of presidential majority, probably in alliance with the right – including Édouard Philippe, a former prime minister, and Nicholas Sarkozy, the former president. Macron will let them get on with it while he assumes the role of global statesman. His opponents, he hopes, will be in disarray.

The paradox remains that Macron is disliked or even hated by two-thirds of voters. They remember the endless broken promises, the President’s pique, arrogance and insecurity that have been the hallmarks of the past five years. It’s a struggle to enumerate presidential successes. Even those who will ultimately vote for him will do so holding their noses.