Sam Gordon Webb
Naked Politics Blogger
Emmanuel Macron is in a spot of bother. Protests in Paris, the “Gilets Jaunes” movement, have developed a revolutionary tinge, with an anti-government sentiment expressed in abundance.
Initially sparked by a rise in diesel tax, the row has moved onto Macron’s lack of political awareness, and his acute inability to act on the wishes of his
own people, and not himself.
He’s a decent man with decent policies, but he’s not presented them very well. Ordinary people now believe that the French motto, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, is no longer in use.
“It’s quite simple,” former socialist party presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, recently told the Financial Times that “ People have had enough of taxes”.
Macron’s rise to power was well-deserved and promised much. He formed his own grassroots movement, En Marche ( “ march forward”), describing it as “people powered”.
His vision was canny, having noticed the success of other European movements, such as Podemos in Spain, and the Five Star Movement in Italy.
He carried a positive message and a determined mind.
Macron was marching forward, and his people were marching with him. Until now…
New problems have emerged for the President. Recent protests are much more than just an attack on higher taxation, but an attack on France’s political elite.
Pragmatism is not Macron’s strong point. His big plan to tackle climate change is bold and helpful in reducing global climate change. But it won’t improve the lives of ordinary French people reliant on diesel to travel.
“The elites are talking about the end of the world while we’re talking about the end of the month” a yellow vest protester told the French newspaper Le Monde.
Macron has made a bad error. He’s announced a policy – a good one with good aims – but one that adversely affects the lives of his own people. Democracy demands consultation, but Macron doesn’t talk to people. His stubbornness prevents him from doing so.
The worst news for Macron is that these people don’t have a set of demands and cannot be defined within ideological terms. Protestors are Frexit supporters and pro-Europe alike, young and old, but united over this one issue.
In Britain, Brexit has created a feeling of resentment between the young and old. In France, both young and old seem united. They resent elites who wield too much power and act against their desires. For now, Macron is the main culprit.
Young people in France are like young people in Britain. They want a green planet, and so Macron’s obsession with reaching the COP 20 carbon reduction target agreed at Lima in 2014 is an attractive and worthwhile proposition.
But higher taxes have hit young people hard, and Macron is blamed. A waitress in Bordeaux was asked on the Today Program how she felt about her president. Her simple answer: “He doesn’t care about me”.
In June, President Macron said that Europe was becoming “too ultra-liberal”. In France, “ultra-liberal” refers to unrestrained capitalism that simultaneously enriches elites whilst crushing the ordinary folk. Macron is surely forgetting that he is what he hates: “ultra-liberal”. His main concern is not for ordinary French people, but for stemming the wave of populism across Europe.
He describes nationalism as a “leprosy”, but has no answers for it.The reality is that Macron doesn’t seem that bothered about most of the people that he claims to represent. This is dangerous for him, and dangerous for his ‘movement’, which requires that people feel listened to and cared for.
So what can be done?
Firstly, the President must stop advising, and start listening. M
by the Institut des Politiques Publiques think-tank. If so, then Macron has forgotten how to lead properly. After all, good leaders think before they speak, and listen before they act.
A relevant example
France’s current leader is not so modest. He was recently filmed telling a teenager to address him as “ Mr President”, not “Manu”. If modesty is a sign of greatness than Macron has none of it.
A Jewish Proverb asserts that “no one is as deaf as the man that will not listen”. French people have a deaf leader. People have become united, not in his name, but against it.
President Macron is marching forward but few people are following.
Who could blame them?