Macron should be Labour’s blueprint

Emmanuel Macron is breaking the mould of French politics – on an unashamedly centrist, pro-European platform, writes Simon Garland Jones

The French presidential election this year is already shaping up as a fascinating contest, even before the official campaign has begun. The accepted wisdom leading up to the race was that, with the governing Socialist party languishing below 10 per cent in the polls, the final two candidates to progress to May’s run-off would be the centre-right Francois Fillon of Les Republicains, and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen. Yet the emergence of a third horse in what was meant to be a two-horse race has taken many by surprise.

Emmanuel Macron caused a stir last year when he stepped down from his position in the Socialist government to announce his candidacy as an independent, leading a new movement described as being ‘neither left nor right,’ calling itself ‘En Marche!’ or ‘Forward!’ in English. This strategy has proved to be a masterstroke with Macron surging in the polls, only six points behind Fillon and Le Pen, the former having just been embroiled in a scandal involving 500,000 euro payments to his wife for work that amounted to, it seems, very little. If Macron gets through to the run-off there is a very good chance that he will become president of France, and if he does, or even if he falls just short, there are many lessons the British centre-left, and indeed the Labour party as a whole can learn from his unexpected rise.

The first is that liberal, social-democratic values are not as out-of-fashion as they seem. These are values that will always be more attractive to the public at large, as opposed to the extremes of the hard right and left – they just need the right messenger in order to blossom. Macron’s youthful exuberance and eloquent style is reminiscent of Tony Blair during his ascendency in the 1990s, as is his ability to present a vision that straddles both radicalism and pragmatism. Macron, by founding the En Marche movement, has given fresh energy to old values. Much like New Labour did.

These old values have been refined for the present-day age of contradictions, as his promises to ‘unblock France’ and end politics as a ‘profession’ have a populist edge, despite Macron clearly representing an archetypal ‘establishment’ candidate. Yet so do former city banker Nigel Farage, and international business tycoon President Donald Trump – who have proved words are stronger than facts when defining yourself. Macron spent his career in banking, but he pitches himself as an outsider, offering not just empty complaints about the system in its current state, but how he intends to change it for the better.

He also successfully conveys a deep love for his country, combined with a commitment to multilateralism and pan-Europeanism. Labour under Blair offered a similar vision, and indeed gave the impression of being both radical but realistic, and patriotic but internationalist at the same time. As Britain leaves the European Union, Labour needs to redefine what it means to be an internationalist, providing an alternative to the neo-mercantilism of the self-styled modern day versions of Sir Francis Drake and Elizabeth I, Liam Fox and Theresa May.

The second lesson to learn from Macron, is that it is that the battle against the conservative and radical right will be won from the centre ground, not from the extremes of the hard left. Ideas across the whole spectrum of the left certainly have the potential for mass popularity, but they need to be presented by someone who is not constrained by a rigid ideological burden. They need to be able to present themselves as someone who can appeal to people on both sides of the debate, and not just a narrow group, with a rigid set of principles. Of course, values are important, but a figurehead needs to be flexible. The fatal flaw of those constrained by their ‘principles’ is that they fail to realise that most ordinary people do not pay attention to dogma, or philosophical arguments – they simply want a vision to get behind.

This is what Macron’s rise has been built on, but his success so far should not be taken as a literal example of what the centre-left, and the Labour party in Britain should do. There are many nuances between Britain and France in terms of the political makeup, and starting a movement such as En Marche would be difficult with our inflexible electoral system. But this is not what is being advocated here. It is about finding a messenger, with the enthusiasm, and radicalism to take a positive, Labour vision of Britain’s post-Brexit future to the mass population. To rediscover this radicalism, policies dismissed by many in the past, such as curbs on executive pay and clamping down on the monopolisation of certain industries that have in fact proved to be popular with the public, should be taken seriously. There can be no half-way houses and in an age of political earthquakes there is no room for indifference on these issues.

The model of Blair and Macron provides the best route to electoral success, and perhaps even some on Labour’s left will begin to accept this in time. At the same time, this centre-left model can only achieve when it convinces the public of its radicalism, and patriotic urge to change the country. Labour’s broad church has the potential to do just that in years to come. What is needed is a hint of populism, a radical, optimistic vision for Britain, and most importantly, the right messenger.

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Simon Garland Jones is a communications professional and freelance journalist. He is also a member of Labour and Progress, and tweets at @sgarlandjones

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Comments: 2...

  1. On January 30, 2017 at 11:50 am Alf responded with... #

    Sounds more like a Tory to me.

  2. On January 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    Benoît Hamon is far too Green and far too pro-EU. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the other hand, harbours no fantasy that the Road to Hell is economic growth. But he does say that it is, “impossible to achieve the democratic change needed in the EU, all power belonging to technocrats with no popular legitimacy.”

    Seen from the rest of the world, at least, François Fillon would be still be better than Marine Le Pen. But any second round with a Le Pen on the ballot would be, as it has been once in the past, a referendum on the Front National and on everything behind it. The other candidate would be bound to win. Again, that has happened in the past. Why, then, should that candidate not be Jean-Luc Mélenchon?

    Magic realism emerged in Latin America because its inhabitants’ ancestors had largely found themselves confronted with flora and fauna, landscapes and weather, places and people, of the like of which they had never so much as heard tell. The rest of those inhabitants’ ancestors had been the people who had found themselves confronted with the first lot and with their ways, including their reactions to everything on the New Continent. Before too long at all, absolutely anything had seemed par for the course.

    How very unlike the mind of the Old Continent. In those days. But not in these days. President Mélenchon? Far, far, far stranger things are now happening all around us, all the time.

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