The French president has failed to build a grassroots movement
Marine Le Pen was the obvious loser in the first round of the French regional elections yesterday but the results also pose awkward questions for President Emmanuel Macron.
Five years after he started his pop-up centrist party and four years on from becoming President, Macron’s troops scored just over 10% of the vote nationwide yesterday. The turn-out was a calamitous 35%.
In other words, roughly 3% of potential French voters placed a ballot in an urn for a Macron-allied candidate in the elections for the presidencies of 13 French regions.
This does not mean that Macron is finished. He still has a high popularity rating for a sitting French President (40 to 50% depending on the question asked). He is still favourite to win the Presidential elections next April and May.
But yesterday’s results suggest that Macron remains a one-man-band, a solo artist. He has not built — and he has made little effort to build — a lasting, centrist political movement. Macronism seems unlikely to survive Macron — whether he departs from the Elysée Palace next year or later.
At national level, Macron remains a dominant, although widely disliked and distrusted figure. On the ground, Macron’s party, La République en Marche (LREM), is struggling to build a grassroots movement, which suggests that Macron may have difficulty in winning the parliamentary elections next June, even if he wins the presidential election in May.
What of Marine Le Pen? All opinion polls suggest that she remains the runaway favourite to reach the two-candidate second round of the presidential election next year. They also suggest she will lose to Macron in the second round but much less decisively than her 34-66% loss in 2017.
Yesterday’s first round of the regional elections were supposed to build Le Pen’s momentum towards a close-run thing, even a victory, next year. The polls predicted her party, Rassemblement National, would come first in six out of 13 regions.
Not for the first time, Le Pen did much worse than the polls predicted. She narrowly topped the poll in only one region.
She could still capture that region — the Nice-Marseilles area — in the second round next Sunday. She will still, I believe, reach the second round of the presidential election next year. But her momentum is badly checked.
All this leaves French politics in an odd place — dominated by Macron and Le Pen at national level but by the “old” tired political families of centre-Right and centre-Left at local level.
How long can that last?