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Sensemaker: The Borne identity

Sensemaker: The Borne identity

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The extra Jubilee Bank Holiday on Thursday could knock 0.4 per cent off the UK’s GDP in the second quarter. 
  • Left-wing former guerrilla Gustavo Petro won 40 per cent of the vote in the first round of Colombia’s presidential election. 
  • Ukrainian rap-folk band Kalush Orchestra raised £712,000 to buy drones for Ukraine’s military by auctioning their Eurovision trophy on Facebook. 

The Borne identity

French riot police appear to be out of control (more below) and the French people are facing a cost of living crisis almost as severe as the UK’s. The person President Emmanuel Macron has chosen to tackle these and other Covid aftershocks as parliamentary elections loom is Elisabeth Borne, a meticulous technocrat now running for elected office for the first time in her life. 

Borne has had a tough start to life as France’s second female Prime Minister, but she can cope with “tough”. Her father, a Holocaust survivor and Resistance hero, died by suicide when she was 11 years old. She has climbed to the second rung in a French political system which is hostile to women. Still, her appointment prompts two questions:

  • Is she a good choice?
  • What made President Macron choose her? 

Team player. Borne was both Macron’s first choice and a last-minute decision. She fitted some parts of the CV laid down by the President: female, from the centre-left; loyal; a hard-worker; a good negotiator; unlikely to outshine him. But she flunked on several others: she has never campaigned for office; she has no regional base; she has no obvious signs of charisma.

Not right. After three weeks of indecision, Macron almost picked another woman, Catherine Vautrin, president of the greater Rheims area. He returned to Borne at the last moment when some of his closest advisors objected to a third right-wing Prime Minister in a row.

L’affaire Abad. The reason her first weeks in office have been tough is that old allegations of rape against a member of her government, welfare minister Damien Abad, have re-surfaced. She and Macron say they knew nothing of the allegations before they appointed him. In any case, they say, the allegations are old (one goes back to 2001) and have already been investigated and found unconvincing.

“Not so quick,” say opposition politicians and parts of the media. There is some evidence that Macron and Borne did know about the allegations – or at least should have done.

Is this damaging? Too early to say. But the Abad row has dominated the first 10 days of Borne’s premiership and has deepened the impression that she and Macron are drifting without a clear campaign strategy into next month’s elections, in which blocs to both left and right claim to be the true voice of the hard-pressed.

The chaos before Saturday’s Champions League final in Paris did not telegraph competence or tolerance either.

Who will win? Macron’s centrist alliance, renamed Ensemble! Probably. Polls suggest his federation of centrist groups is running neck and neck with the newly united Left and Greens in the popular vote but should claim more than half of the 577 seats in the National Assembly.

What about Borne? After spending almost her whole life in government as a super-civil-servant – as a senior aide to Socialist politicians, as head of the Paris Metro, as three kinds of minister in Macron’s first term – Borne is running for election in the rural south-west of Calvados in Normandy, not far from where her mother came from.

Does she have to? No. Here is a curiosity of French politics. She doesn’t need to be an MP to be PM. But if she loses this local race, Macron will dump her. The same rule – established by Macron, not French law – applies to 15 other ministers who are running for seats next month. Bizarrely, if she wins, she will immediately have to resign her seat and let her running mate become the local deputy.

Will she win? Yes. It’s a safeish seat for the Macron alliance. Many local people are delighted to have a prime minister amongst them, however briefly.

Borne’s mother, Marguerite Lescène, was Norman. Her father, Joseph Bornstein, later Borne, was a Belgian-born Jew who survived being sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. His father and one of his brothers did not. Joseph suffered for the rest of his life from survivor’s syndrome and died by suicide by throwing himself from a window when Elisabeth was 11.

Already a brilliant student, she plunged into her books. She was one of very few women to be admitted to the prestigious engineering school Ecole Polytechnique in the 1980s. She went on to a successful career as a civil servant, with a reputation for extreme loyalty to her bosses and extreme impatience with her staff.

As transport minister for Macron, she reformed the state railway giant, SNCF, opening it to competition but dumping its accumulated debt on the state.

As employment minister, she reformed the French dole system, reducing unemployment pay (especially very high payments to white-collar workers) but increasing the length of the period of protection. She is therefore attacked as a “mini-Thatcher” by the French Left but insists that her own political orientation has always been social-democratic or centre-left.

Will she be a good Prime Minister?  Borne has succeeded in every job she has done until now. She has added the mantra “rapidité, efficacité, résultats” to the more familiar liberté, égalité, fraternité. It would be foolish to write her off.

John Lichfield has been reporting from France since the 1990s.


The forever inquiry

Matthew d’Ancona

Sue Gray’s report has failed completely to draw a line under partygate – and has exposed the feebleness of Johnson’s defence


China Covid
After nearly two months of lockdowns, Shanghai officials have announced measures to jumpstart the city’s economy. From 1 June, manufacturers will be allowed to resume operations, tax rebates will be offered and Covid testing for entering public spaces will be eased. Electric car production and new building projects will be accelerated. But even with those measures and a separate State Council announcement of ¥140 billion ($21 billion) of tax rebates and loans, it’s hit and miss whether China will reach their 5.5 per cent GDP growth target by the end of the year. Last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned that there would be “dire consequences” if decisive measures weren’t taken to stop the economy sliding. To note: Shanghai reported 67 Covid cases yesterday, the lowest since 3 March. It’s not zero-Covid, but it may be as good as they get.


Uefa v fans
For the second consecutive summer, Uefa’s showcase football event descended into mayhem. After last year’s violent Wembley stadium invasion by ticketless fans at the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, images emerged from Paris on Saturday night of children being tear-gassed as gate closures and security bottlenecks generated chaos at the Liverpool-Real Madrid Champions League final. Kick-off was delayed by more than half an hour. Some reported being robbed by local gangs as they left the Stade de France following Real Madrid’s 1-0 win. European football’s governing body at first blamed late arrivers, then changed their explanation to accuse “British” fans with counterfeit tickets of causing the congestion. There must now be a real question mark over the use of digital tickets for big matches, where screenshots appear to have been sold on or shared. Football’s hypnotic hold on supporters has allowed governing bodies to take them for granted – and the football industry to exploit their loyalty. But personal security could be a breaking point for some. As recriminations grow, many who saw pictures from Paris of frightened youngsters with tear-gassed eyes will now think twice about taking children to the biggest games.


Shooter signs
When an onlooker shouted “do something” at President Biden while he visited the site of the Uvalde school shooting over the weekend, he called back “We will”. But what does “do something” look like for surveilling potential shooters online? Gizmodo reports that Robb Elementary did use tech to monitor students, in line with state recommendations introduced by Governor Greg Abbott after the Santa Fe shooting in 2018. Uvalde’s Consolidated Independent School District has doubled the security budget for precautionary measures in the last few years. School visitors are monitored and students’ social media is scanned for violence and suicidal ideation. But these measures didn’t, and were unlikely to, stop this shooting. The Uvalde shooter had privately messaged a girl overseas, which wouldn’t have been picked up. Abbott said last week that “there was no meaningful forewarning of this crime”. To note: last year US secret service analysis of 67 averted violent plots in schools found 94 per cent had shared plans beforehand verbally, in messages or posts online. Tragically for the victims of Uvalde in this instance, doing something did nothing.  

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Graduate visas
The government’s new visa scheme for graduates from top universities sounds great on paper. As long as you graduated in the past five years from one of the top 50 universities outside of the UK, and pass English language, security and criminality tests, you will be able to apply for a work visa. Bachelors and master’s degree grads will be able to get a two-year visa, while doctorate holders can apply for three years. The guidance also states that you can apply for other long-term employment visas after your time is up and that families can join the applicant. Good news if you study in the US – 20 of their colleges are on the list including Harvard, Yale and MIT.  Home secretary Priti Patel said she was “proud” to be launching the scheme which puts “ability and talent first, not where someone comes from”. But as some have already pointed out, including Times Higher Education’s chief knowledge officer Phil Baty, universities in Africa, Latin America or South Asia are absent from the list. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Russian oil ban
It’s been more than three weeks since the European Commission proposed a complete ban on Russian oil imports by the end of the year, but the bloc is deadlocked. EU diplomats failed to reach agreement over the plans yesterday, and the row is likely to spill over into a leaders’ summit that begins in Brussels today. Hungary, heavily reliant on Russian oil via the Druzhba pipeline, appears to be the spanner in the works. The country says it will need years and billions of dollars to overhaul its oil infrastructure to handle crude from elsewhere. One proposal reportedly discussed at the weekend was a compromise that would ban Russian oil arriving by sea but continue to allow pipeline imports. The Druzhba pipeline runs across Ukrainian territory. “It would be very appropriate if something happened to it,” a Ukrainian official said last week.

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.

John Lichfield

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Paul Hayward and Jeevan Vasagar. 

Photographs Getty Images

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