June 13, 2022 - 7:00am

In April, French voters gave Emmanuel Macron a second term as president. Yesterday, they voted in the first round of elections to the National Assembly — i.e. the French Parliament. 

According to Le Monde, the centrist “Together” block headed up by Macron’s LREM party, which came a clear first in 2017, has been narrowly beaten into second place. Just ahead of them in votes (but not seats) is NUPES — a broad-based coalition of Left-wing parties. By far the biggest component of this grouping is Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s anti-establishment LFI party — the other members are the Socialists, the Greens and the Communists. 

Expect the success of this “progressive alliance” to be held up as an example for the British Left to follow. 

Credit: Europe Elects

However, it’s worth pointing out that with about a quarter of the vote, the combined share for the French Left is not significantly greater than it was in 2017 when the parties ran separately. It’s mainly because the Macronistes did significantly worse than five years ago that the two blocks have drawn level. 

In terms of votes, the biggest winner last night was the far-Right. In 2017, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally got just 13% in the first round and Éric Zemmour’s Reconquest party didn’t even exist. In 2022, the two parties combined got close to a quarter share of the vote — so not far behind the Left-wingers and the centrists.

The biggest losers, meanwhile, were the parties of the centre-Right, led by the Republicans. In another terrible result for French conservatives, they sunk well below the 15% level.

So how might these various vote shares translate into seats? Initial projections have been made (see chart above), but these are uncertain until after the second round in a week’s time. What we can be sure about is that the results will be far from proportional. The two round system favours the centre over the extremes. The far-Right does especially badly because, even if a candidate makes it through to the second round, there’s an anti-populist majority in most constituencies. 

By not cooperating in the first round, the two populist parties have also reduced their chances of getting through to the second round contests. Most notably, Zemmour has fallen at the first hurdle — and thus won’t be elected to the National Assembly. In contrast, by standing aside for one another, the Left-wing parties will be represented in the great majority of second round contests, which will boost their seat tally at the expense of Macron’s allies.

It is possible that Macron will not have a majority in National Assembly — and with Mélenchon leading the opposition that would prove disruptive. The president may find himself relying on the goodwill of the conservative deputies because, though much reduced in number, they could end up holding the balance of power. 

The lines of a new French political system are beginning to emerge. On the Left, a barely coherent — yet strengthened — opposition. In the centre, and on the moderate Right, a liberal president and his erstwhile conservative opponents who increasingly need one another. And, finally, on the far-Right, a populist movement capable of gaining votes but not power. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.