Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France provides hope for Progressives everywhere, but those in Britain must remain alert to the dangers of a direct translation.
The French presidential election proved to be a rout. Refusing to be categorised as either right or left, unashamedly Europhile, unwavering in his programme and never shifting onto the ground of his rivals to steal their support, Emmanuel Macron was swept into the Elysee Palace with a resounding sixty-six percent of the popular vote. A figure double that of his opponent, Marine Le Pen.
Progressive politicians everywhere immediately took to Twitter to hail the thirty-nine-year-old Macron as the model they themselves must follow in their fight to roll back the populist tide ridden by Trump and Brexit. In Italy, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is busily engaged in transforming himself into a ‘Macron this side of the Alps’. In Britain, many point to the charismatic Frenchman’s rise as the blueprint the liberal Centre here must follow if it is ever to regain its footing at Westminster.
But how relevant are the lessons of the Macron moment to Progressive British politics? The newly elected French president propelled himself to victory by turning himself into a movement. Macron’s one-year-old party, En Marche!, with an acronym drawn from his initials, is still little more than the personal vehicle of its charismatic leader. It currently lacks any other elected representatives save the new president himself, a status that it must remedy if Macron hopes to achieve the change he promised.
That may change come next month’s legislative elections, but it is unlikely that the Socialists and Republicans will be as easily swept from the Senate and National Assembly as they were in the race to the Elysee. June, rather than May will better reflect how Mr. Macron’s movement would have fared in Britain and will likely underscore how winning the presidency in a nationwide popular vote is vastly different from securing power in a first-past-the-post parliamentary system.
In Britain, where traditional party loyalties still run deep and coalitions are viewed with suspicion if not as outright betrayals, the prospect of a one-year-old party sweeping into government is still the stuff of pipe-dreams. Even with the Labour party in its current travails, those calling for old party labels to be ditched and a new Macronist ‘movement’ founded should look to the fate of the SDP rather than prepare for the swift capture of Downing Street.
Only in the fall of the Liberals and the rise of Labour has there ever been an example in British political history of a new party emerging to win power in Westminster. Instead, in the unforgiving world of first-past-the-post politics, new parties tend only to make victory easier for those with whom they have the least in common. So long as party loyalties remain entrenched and whichever of the two main parties ideologically closest to it remains standing, it is almost impossible for any new political force to emerge victorious from the constituency battle. It is within rather than without the established parties that radical forces must emerge if they ever hope to one day sit in government.
That is not to say that Britain’s progressives do not have something to learn from the triumph of Emmanuel Macron. His victory emboldens the battered centre of Western politics, it shows that the centre-ground is still the place where elections can be fought and where they can be won. It shows that to defeat populism it is not necessary to fly to the fringes yourself, but that standing firm in the centre can turn the onslaught.
Macron has shown that with a charismatic and adept leader, by always being a radical, forward thinking force for change and not the custodian of a new conservatism or a throw-back to the past, Progressive politics can and will recover. With an effective messenger the message is not the problem. Despairing British Progressives should not flock to found themselves a new party, what they must do is find their Emmanuel Macron.