Perhaps one day a Le Pen will be elected President of France, or a Wilders will win a general election in Holland. But not yet. Marine Le Pen won some 35 per cent of the vote, roughly double what her father achieved in 2002. That a candidate whose party is tainted with extremism (note that UKIP has gone to some lengths to avoid sitting with it in the European Parliament) scooped up over a third of the vote is a sign of how deeply electoral resistance to globalisation and immigration is now digging in on the European mainland.
But Emmanuel Macron was the decisive winner. As we have written before, he may turn out to be a president in search of authority, bereft of the backing in France’s Parliament that he needs. That he is unlikely to be good news for Britain in the Brexit negotiations has almost as much to do with France’s profile as his own pro-EU convictions. With its protectionist reflexes, énarques, fondness for central planning and suspicion of Anglo-American capitalism, the country tends to be hostile to the City of London and Britain’s long search for a looser EU. None the less, France remains, with Britain, the only significant military power in western Europe, and one with which we co-operate closely.
It is striking that the western countries that have overturned the established order are non-EU members – America, which is ineligible, and Britain, which has voted to leave. The former saw anti-globalisation politics represented within one of its two main parties, the Republicans – although Donald Trump now appears to be morphing into the kind of hawkish President which that party has usually produced post-war. The latter saw it concentrated in UKIP, which is now falling apart.
As we write, Theresa May looks likely to increase her Parliamentary majority in the coming general election – perhaps substantially. Maybe the reason why the anti-globalisation left and right are set to do badly in this poll – UKIP will not perform nearly so strongly as Le Pen – has something to do with the way in which the Conservative Party now contains the nation’s political differences over Brexit within itself, and appears capable of somehow reconciling them. Its members were for leave. Its MPs were divided, with many of those nervous of their Associations opting for Leave and most of those with ministerial aspirations opting for Remain. The Cabinet was decisively for staying in.
The Prime Minister herself is a former Remainer who, more than any other senior backer of that cause, appears to have taken last June’s result to heart. She speaks to a crucial electorial demographic: those who voted to stay in the EU, but who understand that the country has now made its choice, and that those who lead us must put their back into it. May inspires the trust of that group. Meanwhile, Macron’s win will greatly enthuse Liberal Democrats, Blairites, social democrats, and some soft Tories. As matters stand, they need all the cheering up they can get.