The great disillusioned are turning right, not leftby Kumail Jaffer / May 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
The French Election had all the ingredients to create a political shock. An underdog running on a nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-austerity ticket, against a pro-European, centrist, ex-investment banker. In the end Emmanuel Macron, the centrist, won the vote comfortably. Some have seen this as a vindication of centrist liberalism, which over the last two years has taken such a battering with the rise of nationalism, exhibited by the election of Donald Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK.
But triumphant liberals should be wary of reading too much into the result. The French electorate, like many others, is still disgruntled. Macron succeeded—where Hillary Clinton failed—because he was regarded as the “lesser evil.” Even then, 12 million people abstained, in addition to four million who spoiled their ballots. These voters had little motivation to take part in a broken political system. And let’s not forget the seven million voters who wanted Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the hard left candidate, to win. We shouldn’t discount the left quite yet.
That the Front National candidate getting “only” 10.5m votes in a French election could count as a victory for the centre shows how far politics has come in just a few years. Before the 2008 financial crash, it had seemed absurd that fringe parties would see the political light of day: centrist liberalism appeared dominant. In 2009 Barack Obama had just been inaugurated, Gordon Brown oversaw New Labour’s third successive term in power, and Angela Merkel remained as German Chancellor (the great centrist survivor.) But outside the political bubble, anger was brewing.
In 2010 came austerity and the start of a popular backlash. Services were cut, public projects underfunded, and the overall quality of life fell. An Oxfam study showed that, as a result of austerity policies implemented in the UK, “the poorest two-tenths of the population will have seen greater cuts to their net income” and that “in 2012, unemployment reached 7.9 per cent, a level last seen in 1996.” However, the centre still managed to hold on. Obama was comfortably re-elected in 2012, along with Conservative “moderate” David Cameron in 2015.
But the rise of fringe parties, on both right…