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Triumph of the liberal

Emmanuel Macron leads a deeply divided country — can he charm the people who didn’t vote for him?

Emmanuel Macron is the new president of France. After five disappointing years, François Hollande has left the Elysée Palace. And Le cher et vieux pays, the “dear old country” celebrated by Charles de Gaulle—who was 68 when he founded the Fifth Republic in 1958—has fallen into the arms of a 39-year-old political novice with no party machine.

The achievement of this young man is historic. At a time when the democratic process is under scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic, Macron has broken the entire mould of French politics. Selecting him after a long, unpredictable and bitter presidential campaign, 66.1 per cent of French voters have sent a signal of hope, optimism and openness to the world. How could it happen in a nation with a reputation for being the most pessimistic in Europe? And how could a land at once so proud of its revolutionary tradition, and at the same time so solidly conservative in its political habits, have embraced an avowed centrist who proudly stands outside the old tribes of left and right?

Macron was at first considered a fraud, a hologram, a selfdeluded caricature. He was seen as a spoiled brat, not in the class-conscious Eton-Oxford English sense, but in a French way that combines high education and a technocratic mindset with intellectual pretention. His blue-eyed good looks didn’t help. Before long he was also labelled a traitor to his boss, Hollande, to Manuel Valls, the head of the government in which he served, and to the Socialist Party he pretended to support. Back then, he was seen as a bubble, which the changing winds of the popular mood would soon blow away, a passing infatuation for the media which was bored of the drear of politics as usual. He was painted as a caricature of the globalised elite, a former banker, the gilded champion of the oligarchy. Above all, he was a weather vane who bent with the winds and denied the basic political divide between the right and the left, a failing candidate who would never master the rules of the game.

Thirteen months ago, he launched En Marche! a political movement bearing his own initials and staffed by a handful of young, devoted aides. Less than a year before that, he resigned from the government and from the civil service, and now he has reached the one and only goal he had longed for: the Elysée.

The elections that have brought him there have remade the entire terrain of French politics. In the first round of the election, on 23rd April, the French got rid of both the two parties that had dominated French politics and government for the past 60 years. Since then, François Fillon’s conservative Les Républicains (LRs)—the current incarnation of the Gaullists—and Benoît Hamon’s Parti Socialiste (PS) have been blaming one another, settling internal scores while pretending to be unified, and arguing that the internal primaries used to pick their candidates should never have been held, as if a bit of fixing in the back-office of the party machine could have saved them from the rage of the voters. Ahead after the first round, both Macron and Marine Le Pen, the Front National (FN) candidate, ran against the establishment as if they didn’t belong to it. In fact, he is one of its finest specimens, and she is the family heir to a far-right movement which has now been around for 44 years.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Martha Gill and Helen Pidd examine the election chances of the three main political parties. Wheatcroft explores the Tories’ remarkable ability to rise from the ashes and assert dominance, Gill questions why the Lib Dem revival isn’t quite getting off the ground and Pidd examines Labour’s prospects after poor performances in the recent council and mayoral elections. Also in this issue: Christine Ockrent asks if France’s new President Emmanuel Macron can charm the parts of France that didn’t initially vote for him, AC Grayling assesses whether the rise and rise of drone warfare warrants a new ethical code for conflict and Francine Stock explores whether Pixar can continue to captivate modern audiences.