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Watch out Macron: the Gilet Jaunes are back

Will we see a repeat of 2020? Credit: Getty

October 21, 2021 - 7:10am

They are back. A handful of them, at any rate.

Small groups of men and women in yellow high-visibility jackets — “gilets jaunes” — stood beside roundabouts on the edge of a score of French towns last Saturday.

They were protesting against a boom in pump prices, which has reached 1.53 for a litre of diesel, a few centimes higher than the last record set three years ago. 

In the autumn of 2018, the high cost of filling up a car helped cause a nationwide revolt by hundreds of thousands of people who had never previously revolted. The original yellow jacket rebellion — rural and outer-suburban, directionless, leaderless and much divided — faded away in the spring of 2019.

By then the movement had been hijacked by people who live in a permanent state of revolt: urban, anti-capitalist and unconcerned by the price of petrol. They carried on, in diminishing numbers, until the first Covid lockdown in March last year. 

Can the original Gilets Jaunes revolt be reborn, six months before the French presidential election? President Emmanuel Macron plainly fears that they can.

By the end of this week, Macron is expected to announce emergency measures to help people in rural areas and suburbs who are heavily dependent on cars. He has two options.

The finance ministry wants to give a monthly cheque to poorer families who rely on private transport. The problem is that French officialdom does not have a handy list of these people. Drawing one up in a matter of days would be difficult and would risk an explosion of anger from those excluded.

Macron is said to favour a temporary cut in the various taxes which represent 60% of the pump price of petrol and diesel in France. That would look incoherent when France is committed (in theory) to rapid action on climate change.

It might also be costly and pointless. The state would lose 2.5bn for every 5 centimes taken off a litre — and the benefit might become invisible if world crude prices continue to rise.

Still, Macron feels that he has to do something.

An Elabe opinion poll for BFMTV on Tuesday found that the cost of living and purchasing power was the number one issue for nearly one in two French voters — far ahead of security and immigration, the favoured subjects of Macron’s far-Right opponents Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour.  

As a result, Zemmour is doing his best to encourage another Gilets Jaunes rebellion. He said this week that they were “quite right”. Rural and outer-suburban France were the principal victims of “40 years” of misrule by a globalist-liberal-Europe-loving elite.

The problem for Zemmour is that the original Gilets Jaunes have scattered and disbanded (insofar as they had any organisation or unity of purpose in the first place). A year ago, when he was still a journalist, Zemmour wrote in his column in Le Figaro that the yellow-vests had been destroyed by far-Left entryism (true).

He added, because everything for Zemmour is linked to race, that the GJ’s had also been swamped by “racaille” (scum) from the multi-racial inner suburbs. That is utterly false.

So can the Gilets Jaunes’ live again? 

That will depend in large part, not on Zemmour, but on the decisions taken this week by the man that the yellow vests love to hate: Emmanuel Macron.

John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.


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Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
2 years ago

I am glad you are paying 1.53, my local pumps are climbing well over 1.6 in Charente Deux Sevres border

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

I’m in the US where fuel prices used to be relatively cheap. In the last couple of years prices have shot up from $1.79 to $3.17 per gallon.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
2 years ago

The situation has changed. Even the GJ know that the price hikes are global. Let’s hope they appreciate that the French government is actually trying to do something about it for those most in need, unlike other governments in Europe and elsewhere. I have to say I feel incredibly fortunate to be living here!

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago

One does get a funny feeling living here, en France profonde, that the French state does actually think its job is to look after one.

ralph bell
ralph bell
2 years ago

I think the cost of living demonstrations are something we may start seeing here too in quite soon.
I like Macron and I hope he pulls it together in the election using this intelligence to inform his manifesto pledges.