Magazine article The Spectator

Is Macron's Vanity Presidency Already Falling Apart?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is Macron's Vanity Presidency Already Falling Apart?

Article excerpt

The French president's embarrassing attempts to reinvent himself as the new Tony Blair

For a man with a reputation as a bit of an egghead, Emmanuel Macron has acquired a sudden passion for sport. In recent weeks, he's been seen at rugby matches and football internationals, invited the Lyon women's football team to the Élysée Palace to celebrate their Champions League win, and found time to chat with Chris Froome during the cyclist's ride to a fourth Tour de France title. He's even donned boxing gloves and sparred with a young pugilist as a means of promoting Paris's bid to host the 2024 Olympics.

The message from the 39-year-old Macron is clear, as crystal as Tony Blair's when he was elected British prime minister in 1997, having courted sports idols and rock stars during his campaign: I am young, I am dynamic and I am a new leader for a new age. Like Blairism, Macron's pitch is aimed at an international audience. Unlike Blairism, it's not necessarily off to a flying start.

In those early years, Britain couldn't get enough of Blair, and his carefully crafted Cool Britannia captured the imagination of a country where the spread of the internet created opportunities for edgy innovation. Tony was refreshing, a welcome injection of pizzazz after the grey years of John Major's premiership, and he was seen as the right man for the new millennium, a leader interested in the future and not in the past. Across the Channel, the French could only look on in envy, ruled as they were by President Jacques Chirac, then 65, a career politician with questionable ethics, whose main cultural interest was ancient Japanese art.

Envious the French might have been, but they were also in awe of Cool Britannia and a new expression entered their lexicon -- 'So British', as in quirky, irreverent and typical of those cool cats on the other side of the Channel.

Perfidious Albion had never been so in vogue and tens of thousands of French headed across the Channel to share in the success of Cool Britannia. Over the past two decades, many have settled in London, but French accents can now also be heard across the UK; predominantly young men and women, get-up-and-go sorts, ambitious and out to make something of their lives.

These are now the people that Macron wants to lure back to their homeland to be part of his French resurgence. 'We are at the beginning of a new wave,' he said during a visit in June to Viva Technology in Paris, a trade show billed as the place to foster innovation. 'And this is the place to be, to invest, to work, to invent. We need a nation that thinks and moves like a startup.'

But are the French sold? The polls suggest not. This month, Macron's approval rating has plummeted ten percentage points the biggest drop for a new leader since Chirac suffered a 15 percentage point dip in 1995. Macron would do well to remember that he was elected as much by default as by desire. Polls have revealed that more than half of his 20 million voters in the second round of the election were motivated more by a determination to block Marine Le Pen than by his policies. Even in the first round of voting, Macron benefited most from the disastrous campaigns of the Socialist party and the centre-right Republicans; a survey in Libération disclosed that only 58 per cent of his voters supported him out of conviction, compared to 81 per cent of Le Pen's and 84 per cent of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's, the far-left candidate.

This seems to have been lost on Macron, who is promising a clean break with the Ancien Régime, a country no longer governed by the same self-serving clique. For too long France has been in thrall to the soixante-huitards, that self-obsessed generation of half a century ago. Once revolutionaries, they became relics, clinging grimly to power in all walks of life, overseeing a moral and intellectual decay. This year's elections swept all but a few soixante-huitards from political power, and under Macron it's becoming clear that France is no longer a country for old men. …

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