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The perception is that he has completely bungled it
Dr Joseph Downing
Dr Joseph Downing, a Fellow in Nationalism at the London School of Economics, was speaking against a backdrop of fresh Yellow Vest protests and widespread demonstrations against job and wage cuts, plus France recording more than 13,000 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Irrespective of the reality, France’s President was saddled with a serious image problem, said Dr Downing, undercut by concerns over shortages of PPE earlier this year and a lack of testing capacity. He told Express.co.uk: “The perception is that he has completely bungled it.
“He’s got a problem in the sense that you are in trouble if you do, and you are in trouble if you don’t.
“If you are trying to look competent and not overspend and be responsible for public finances, if you then invest in all that stuff and then it is not that serious, you are left with a massive stockpile of stuff you don’t need you don’t look that credible.
“I think that is one of the issues that Macron faces.”
Dr Downing added: “The thing with Macron is it makes him look even more like he doesn’t care enough about people because he is concerned more about resources.
“It strengthens that existing perception that he wants to take away our pensions, he also doesn’t care if we die while he is in the Elysees surrounded by all his experts.
“One of the political masterstrokes that Boris Johnson pulled was that he actually had COVID-19 and nearly died.
“Whereas there was a perception in France that Macron had a tan throughout the whole pandemic, with people asking how that was possible, he had a haircut, he looked immaculate.
“When the Beirut explosion happened he quickly turned up and unveiled all these policies for the Lebanese people and back in France people were saying he was kind of absent during the pandemic.”
He added: “Some leaders in a disaster situation can become more popular and acceptable.
“He hasn’t – he’s remained aloof and a little bit distant and a little bit absent.
“For me it can be expressed in my two failed attempts to get to Paris this year.
“I tried to go in January and it was shut down by strikes and I tried to go again in April and it was shut down by the lockdown.
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“One of which – the pandemic – is clearly not his fault.
“But the first one was definitely about his attempts to reform and people’s pushback against it.
“So I definitely think coming hot on the heels of that – the economic damage caused by strikes, pension reforms, Yellow Vests, whatever – then to have the perception that he has bungled this as well, it does not look good.”
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for his Presidency, Dr Downing said it still appears highly probable Mr Macron would be re-elected in 2022, which he suggested was a problem in itself.
He explained: “Who is the credible opponent for him? Nobody.
“There is nobody out there – there is no Keir Starmer in France, basically.
“That suggests we are going to have another Macron/Le Pen run-off – in which case he would probably win again.
“It is quite a serious problem for the French political system because it fuels those voices on the fringes which are saying it is not about democracy, it is about controlling you.
“Traditionally, we had a situation where they had a President in power and don’t trust him so they get him out via the ballot box.
“Now you have a shift away from a particular candidate to a distrust of the entire system.”
This had direct parallels with Brexit, Dr Downing said.
He explained: “The resentment is very similar to the justification given via the Leave camp which is, there is a stitch-up by the liberal Whitehall elite.
“Another thing is how does the EU look and to be honest they looked for about three months like they did not exist.
“Borders were closed, Schengen was suspended, it was about Macron, Merkel, Johnson.
“The EU did not play a unifying role through the pandemic.”
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