France’s parliamentary election result is a scathing disavowal of Emmanuel Macron. Coming so soon after April’s presidential election, it confirms that he was re-elected by default, because he stood against Marine Le Pen. He has now lost his majority in the National Assembly, despite an electoral system that favours his party and a particularly low turnout (47%), which gave more weight to better-off and older voters. Macron is both stunned and annoyed and doesn’t know what to do or who to turn to. His campaign strategy, to lull voters into a false sense of security by avoiding clear commitments, failed, and the reality of his unpopularity has caught up with him.
The fact that the National Assembly is now more representative of voters’ wishes is hardly a crisis. In 2017 Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftwing La France Insoumise (LFI) won 17 seats, the far-right Front National eight, and the Greens one — in other words, three parties that represented 40% of the electorate held only 4.5% of the seats between them. That suited Macron: it allowed him to govern as he saw fit. But now he’ll have to work with other people besides his chief of staff. This should only bother those who hoped he would reform France’s pension system in the same way that he cut rail workers’ employment rights, made the labour code more flexible and tightened conditions for unemployment benefits.
Thanks to Mélenchon’s new electoral strategy the leftwing alliance now has more seats — four times more for LFI — without increasing its share of the vote. But Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) has done even better, multiplying its MPs by ten. Not thanks to any novel political initiative, but simply because RN voter numbers have been steadily increasing as the party’s appeal has grown and it has lost its stigma. Parliamentary elections hadn’t favoured it till now, but this time its vote has doubled — from 8.75% in 2017 to 17.3%. Le Pen herself got 2.5 million more votes in the presidential second round than in 2017.
The RN doesn’t need expert committees, a programme or celebrity endorsements. All it has to do is harness popular dissatisfaction. It exploits everything from French consumers’ falling purchasing power to the UEFA Champions League final fiasco. Until now, the party had no chance of getting into power or even influencing any of France’s institutions, voting for it seemed risk-free (1).
Having the RN as an opponent was a guarantee of victory because of the ‘blocking vote’ that would rise up against it. With his usual cynicism, Macron took advantage of this to get himself elected five years ago, then re-elected, with the left’s help. He then blamed ‘the extremes’ (the RN and LFI) equally to stop the leftwing alliance from winning a parliamentary election. The man who in 2016 warned, ‘If we don’t pull ourselves together, in five or ten years’ time the Front National will be in power has been at the Élysée for some time now. Where will Le Pen be in ten years’ time?