The Macron Moment: Lessons for Britain’s progressives

13 May 2017

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Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France provides hope for progressives everywhere, but to what extent does it show the way for Britain’s struggling centre-left? 


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 triumphed with sixty-six per cent of the popular vote - double that of 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’  and, in Britain, many point to the charismatic Frenchman’s rise as the blueprint the liberal centre must follow if it is ever to regain its footing in 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, currently lacking any other elected representatives save the new president himself. 


That may change come next month's legislative elections, but it is unlikely the Socialists and Republicans will be as easily swept from the Senate and National Assembly as they were in the race to the Elysee. 


However, 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 pipedreams.


Even with Labour 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 Social Democratic Party (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 the centre-ground is still the place where elections can be fought and won. It shows that to defeat populism. it is not necessary to fly to the fringes yourself; standing firm in the centre can still turn the onslaught.


These are lessons especially valuable for those in the Labour Party rapidly losing heart under Jeremy Corbyn. But the lesson from Macron is not that Labour’s centrists must split and breakaway. Rather, it is 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, Labour can, and will, recover. The centre-left must not abandon Labour, it must re-take it. With an effective messenger the message is not the problem. The centre is alive and kicking, all Labour must do is find its Emmanuel Macron.




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