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Sensemaker: Macron by a margin

Sensemaker: Macron by a margin

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Macron won a second term as president of France, with a 17 point lead in the official exit poll over Le Pen (more below).
  • The US announced $700 million more in military aid to Ukraine on a visit to Kyiv by its secretaries of state and defence that they failed to keep secret because Zelensky announced it in advance.
  • A senior UK government official told the Times Sue Gray’s forthcoming report on lockdown parties is so damning Boris Johnson may have to go. 

Macron by a margin

French voters rejected nationalism last night, about four and a half times more emphatically than British voters embraced it six years ago. 

Emmanuel Macron admitted in his victory speech that many of the 58 per cent of French voters who backed him for a second term did so only to erect “a barricade” against Marine Le Pen – who won nearly 3 million more votes than in 2017 and hinted she may yet run again.

But it was Macron’s night.

  • He’s the first French president to win a second term since 2002 and the first in five decades to win one not encumbered by “cohabitation” with an opposition majority in parliament. 
  • Parliamentary elections in June – aka round three of the presidential election – could force him into a cohabitation. Equally, his party could hold on to its majority thanks to the same polarised opposition that has let him redefine the centre of French presidential politics.
  • His margin of victory, half as big as in 2017, was still a crushing disappointment for Le Pen supporters who hoped for an upset to match the UK’s EU referendum and Trump’s 2020 election. 

Brexit, Trumpism and Putin were all factors in Macron’s win. He has cast himself as a figurehead of European democracy against all three, and EU flags were as evident as French ones on the Champs de Mars last night. That said, his slow walk to a podium with his wife and a backing track of Ode to Joy was not exactly joyful.  

The price of victory is anger as well as polarisation.

The hard right is the new opposition: from 18 per cent when Le Pen’s father competed in the 2002 run-off, to 41 per cent now, its vote share has grown relentlessly and its platform of soft-focus xenophobia – couched now as preferential treatment for native-born French – has entered the mainstream. 

The hard left detests Macron, and the fact of having to choose between him and Le Pen. Its de facto leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, begged supporters after round one not to give Le Pen a single vote but didn’t endorse Macron, whom he caricatures as an ex-banker who outsources government to McKinsey. Only 15 per cent of his 7.7 million first-round supporters backed Le Pen yesterday. 42 per cent voted for Macron – but 45 per cent abstained or spoiled their ballots. Mélenchon appealed to them directly last night to vote in force for his Union Populaire in June, and make him prime minister in a cohabitation to thwart Macronian elitism. 

Why the unhappiness?

Macron has presided over a period of relative economic success. France emerged from Covid the fastest growing economy in the G7. Wages rose on his watch and unemployment is at its lowest point in more than a decade. But the headline numbers mask underlying problems:

  • Cost of living: Pressures on the cost of living induced by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are top of mind for the French electorate. Inflation (at 4.6 per cent) is lower than in the UK or US but still high enough to wipe out most wage growth.
  • Inequality: It has been tough for Macron to shift the view that he’s president of the rich. He has been criticised throughout his presidency for focussing on big business and wealthy urbanites while ignoring the poor and rural.

City and country clashed spectacularly in 2018 when the gilets jaunes stormed France’s roundabouts to protest, initially, against a proposed rise in fuel duties. The demonstrations morphed into a broad revolt against Macron’s perceived arrogance, and nearly dethroned him. The protests subsided but the resentment hasn’t gone away. 

Macron 2.0 – the agenda

If he is to see off the far-right and the radical left, he will need to prove that he can satisfy the demands of the electorate. Polling by Ipsos for Le Monde found that the top concerns for French voters going into this election were: 

1. Purchasing power (52%)

2. Healthcare (30%)

3. Climate change (29%)

4. Immigration (28%)

Macron sought to answer many of these concerns in his campaign. 

  1. Purchasing power: His government has put a cap on gas and electricity prices and handed out €100 grants to 38 million people on low and middle incomes. Further proposals include allowing employers to give out bonuses of up to €6,000 tax-free. 
  2. Healthcare: France has a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas: around 7.4 million people in the country have “limited” access to a GP. To help support the healthcare system Macron proposed a recruitment drive for nurses, elderly care assistants and assistants for GPs. He promised to simplify healthcare administration, to improve access to emergency care and to better coordinate care between GPs and hospitals.
  3. Climate change: Macron pledged to increase France’s nuclear energy capacity with six new power stations and to build more renewable energy sources. He also promised to help insulate 700,000 homes per year.
  4. Immigration: A significant portion of the French electorate is worried about illegal immigration. Macron has tried to speak to those concerns without echoing Le Pen’s racism. He said he wants to accelerate the decision making process for asylum applications and to deport those who are not granted asylum. He also proposed limiting French citizenship to those who are able to pass an advanced language test. 

Bear traps

  • Cohabitation: if Macron’s La République en Marche fails to persuade voters to its left and right that it takes their grievances seriously, his second term could be gridlocked in parliament and his agenda for term two stillborn.   
  • Gilets Jaunes redux: “The Gilets Jaunes didn’t just evaporate after taking off their vests,” says Magali Della Sudda, a researcher at Sciences-Po. France is subject to the same energy price spikes as the rest of Europe, and smaller-scale protests have emerged against Macron’s strict vaccine mandates and his plan to raise France’s retirement age to 65. That plan is on ice, but the protests could still balloon. 

It’s fashionable to focus on what ails liberalism, not its winners. For all his critics and the heavy lifting he still faces, Macron is a winner. The most conspicuously talented politician in any advanced democracy has just won a second term, and his rival conceded promptly and with reasonably good grace. Democracy ain’t dead.


Boris Johnson is killing the Tory party

Matthew d’Ancona

In his destructive populism and disregard for basic decency, the PM has hollowed out the very tradition he claimed to personify


Putin’s unsanctioned girlfriend
The US has prepared sanctions against Alina Kabaeva, Putin’s supposed girlfriend, but has not deployed them for fear of provoking an irrational response, according to the WSJ. Kabaeva is thought to have had as many as three children with Putin since his divorce from his first wife. He’s also thought to have used Kabaeva’s name to hide much of his personal fortune. So the idea of sanctioning her is tactically sound, but the Journal says the US National Security Council pulled her at the last minute from a list of new individual sanctions targets lest Putin loses his temper and escalate the war in Ukraine. He has lashed out in the past at those who “with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, break into other people’s private affairs”. Kabaeva and her mother and grandmother have been given title to six flats, two houses and substantial land holdings, according to Russia’s land registry, and the former Olympic rhythmic gymnast has earned as much as $12 million a year as chairwoman of a Kremlin-linked media company. Alexei Navalny, the jailed opposition leader, urged that she be sanctioned earlier this month. 


Meet Robert Golob
Under-reported because of all the attention paid to Macron’s re-election, another liberal has mobilised youth and ambition to defeat Trump-style populism – in Slovenia. Robert Golob is poised to replace Janez Jansa as Slovenia’s prime minister after his Freedom Movement took 34 per cent of the vote to 23 for Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party in elections yesterday. Jansa is a fan of Trump’s whom Golob also cast as an ally of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, threatening to take Slovenia down a “Hungarian” path away from the rule of law. Critics said that, like Orbán, Jansa was moving to assert control of state-backed media and encroach on the independence of the judiciary that is a sine qua non for EU membership. Golob, 55, used to run a power company and before that was a Fulbright Scholar at Georgia Tech. 


Jet fuel and solar furnaces
A Swiss firm hopes to produce carbon-neutral jet fuel by using solar furnaces to combine hydrogen from water with carbon dioxide. The furnaces are the focus of renewed attention from green energy investors (hat tip again to the WSJ) attracted by their relatively small land footprint and relatively high energy storage capacity. Experimental versions have existed for years in Spain and southern California. They use fields of angled mirrors to focus solar rays on a single spot to produce such intense heat during the day that it can continue to power steam turbines – via heat storage in the form of, for example, molten salt – during the night. They haven’t seen the economies of scale that China has delivered to photovoltaic solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Boosters say furnaces can store six to 12 hours’ energy compared with three to four for lithium-ion batteries connected to PV plants, but there’s a logic flaw here. Lithium-ion storage time doesn’t depend on the input. It depends on the size of the battery.  

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Zero Covid China
It’s now five weeks since Shanghai’s 25 million citizens went into severe lockdown in the pursuit of zero-Covid. Is it working? No. 39 Covid deaths were reported yesterday, a record for the city, and 21,000 new infections. That’s despite mass testing, electronic alarms to stop the infected leaving their homes, forcing people from homes to be disinfected and reports of 2 metre high green fences that lock-off apartments and areas with infections. Government censors are also attempting to stop the spread of videos documenting the impact of the lockdown with some joking on Chinese social media that the country was hitting “zero spreading”. But censors have been trying, and failing, to play whack-a-mole with a six-minute long video titled “The Voice of April” which includes accounts of citizens who haven’t eaten for days and lack of medical supplies. Much like Omicron, it’s persisted. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Kerry on climate pledges
John Kerry says countries that promised more ambitious carbon emissions targets at Cop26 in time for Cop27 aren’t delivering. Almost every country that sent a delegation to Glasgow was tasked with ratcheting up its targets by the time they meet again in Egypt in November, but the US climate envoy told the WaPo in an interview for Earth Day: “I don’t see the evidence that that is happening”. The world is distracted by war and the need it creates to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas, and Kerry admits that has undermined any momentum created by the Glasgow conference. “So I think we have a huge lift.” He gives oil companies 10 years – tops – to decarbonise entirely. 

The week ahead


25/4 – National security adviser Stephen Lovegrove questioned by foreign affairs committee on Afghanistan; Office for National Statistics releases data on disability pay gaps; Piers Morgan interview with President Donald Trump at 8pm, 26/4 – March data on state of public finances released, 27/4 – Transport secretary Grant Shapps scrutinised by transport committee, 29/4 – Previous Wimbledon champion Boris Becker sentencing for four convictions under the Insolvency Act; ONS data on how the pandemic has affected earnings due to changes in the workforce


25/4 – UN Biodiversity Conference opens in Kunming, China (Cop15); World Immunization Week begins, 26/4 – 26th Webby awards announced; IAEA director-general visits Chernobyl to “step up efforts to help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident”, 27/4 – Freedom day celebrated in South Africa, the day Nelson Mandela was elected president; Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day marked in Israel, 28/4 – German chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Japan; Twitter results released, 29/4 –Portuguese parliament vote on working majority Socialists budget draft; Russian central bank interest rate announcement, 30/4 – Vietnam celebrate liberation day marking the fall of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City; Partial solar eclipse over South America, Antarctica, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Ella Hill

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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