Jonathan Miller

Why Boris is loved by the French

Why Boris is loved by the French
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Boris Johnson is more popular in France than Emmanuel Macron, which might not be a high hurdle to overcome, since Macron is rather generally unloved. Except Johnson is not just marginally more popular, but massively so. Indeed, the French seem to like him even more than the British. And he’s popular right across the French political spectrum, from the extreme right to the extreme left. Chouette!

According to a study in the news magazine Le Point, 51 per cent of French voters have a favourable opinion of the Prime Minister, at least 10 points clear of recent polls assessing the popularity of the President.

‘Boris Johnson has seduced a majority of the French with a non-traditional political line. By breaking the codes, he’s conquered the social classes normally disenchanted with politics,’ according to William Thay et Emeric Guisset of the Millénaire political consultancy, which conducted the study.

Defying political gravity, Johnson is not merely popular with voters of the right-wing Rassamblement National of Marine Le Pen, with 59 per cent of those voters having a good opinion of him, but of the extreme left-wing supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, on 55 per cent. Among voters of the traditional centre right party, Les Républicains, he’s also well regarded, with 59 per cent having a favourable view of Boris Johnson.

Even supporters of Macron believe Johnson has managed the Covid crisis better than the President.

It might be easy to dismiss this as an artefact produced by a politician little known in La France Profonde, but thanks to his visibility first as mayor of London during the 2012 Olympics, and then as the Prime Minister who ‘got Brexit done,’ he has 85 per cent recognition in France, probably higher than many of those in the peloton of candidates preparing to contest next year’s presidential election.

Boris is weak only among the French elites. In Paris he’s unfavourably regarded by 57 per cent and among those with superior degrees, 64 per cent. He more than makes up for this among ordinary voters and the provincial bourgeoisie, and especially among older voters, who admire his ‘clear’ strategy to vaccinate Britain.

Is any of this meaningful? Perhaps so. Johnson's common touch could well be a political model in France, where politicians like Macron incarnate an arrogance verging on disdain for voters. Even the former socialist president François Hollande described the French ‘en bas’ as the ‘sans dents’ (the toothless).

Humour, a common touch and empathy are all qualities lacking amongst the French political elite. Macron's lack of any of these qualities may well leave him facing defeat in less than 12 months.