The weekend just gone, Manifestation 23, marked a seismic shift in the five month battle between the Gilets Jaunes and the French state. The Notre Dame fire has brought into the open the strategic shift in public opinion that has occurred over the winter; shifts all to the advantage of the Gilets Jaunes. While the cold winter months with their looming darkness only allowed us to glimpse two equal parties grinding away at each other in the gloom, the advent of spring and its clear light, reveals how the Gilets are gathering reserves of strength all over France, and how, now, they are slowly winning in Paris as well. The sight of French police surrounding Notre Dame and denying access to its ‘own’ population, starkly illustrates what the state seeks to deny. After all, these sort of monuments are the materiality through which states demonstrates their connection to the population, their right to rule and their own power.
The Neo-liberal state is crumbling and Macron is going be the sacrificial lamb. At this stage he will be lucky to last two months. His clumsy handling of the Notre Dame blaze has outraged and enraged more sections of the French population. Indeed throughout the five months of protest, and despite the wall to wall media propaganda, opinion polls consistently show continued and unwavering sympathy and support of the Gilets Jaunes.
In the sharp light of spring it is clear that Macron’s winter strategy: the Great National Debate, has achieved nothing for the government and more tellingly perhaps, has further revealed Macron’s own incapacity to either change himself or shift course. As one anonymous French state official reportedly said: ‘Mitterrand gave them an extra week’s holiday, but Macron can’t manage anything’. He simply seems unable in any form to communicate with either the Gilets or the people of France. His constant speeches, with their casual insults and lack of empathy, remain one of the best recruitment tools the Gilets possess.
His recent pronouncements continue this trend. His promise to rebuild the cathedral in five years was met with scorn – ‘this is not a railway line’, said one commentator, while his invitation to the world (a typical empty gesture) angered and aroused traditionalists. Indeed, as has been widely reported, his endorsement of cash donations from billionaires, simply provided the Gilets with yet more free sticks to beat him and the state.
Even his big showpiece speech was cancelled when the Cathedral burst into flames. And what was his big announcement? A freeze on hospital and school closures, the index-linking of pensions to inflation and the closing of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the university that produces the country’s political and civil elite, all of which, particularly the last, were seen as too late and totally irrelevant. After all it doesn’t put food on the table or help the people get to the end of the month with any money. As I noted in previous articles, this is typical of Macron, revealing only how his personal authority is slipping away, and strangely enough, how irrelevant he is becoming to the entire debate.
Above all, Macron is guilty of being one of those stupid/intelligent middle class people; the sort neo-liberalism delights in providing for us in many guises: administrators, legacy media editors, heads of departments, councillors, politicians. He is bright, he is buffed, he has aspiration, he can speak fluently on subjects for hours, yet for all of that, every speech he makes simply inflames the situation. And this, coupled with his inability to convey a shred of empathy and his apparent lack of understanding concerning both politics and national history, reveal him to be nothing so much as a messenger boy for the rich and the powerful. Once again none of this escapes the French population […]