At the beginning of the coronavirus lock-down in France, Macron gained some support, trying to appear as the ‘strong man’, taking action to stop the virus from spreading. But this is very fragile. By the second week, support for the government is crumbling. A recent poll shows that 75% of the people think that Macron is not providing enough resources to the health service and its workers.
Macron has not increased the public health budget by one cent. Also, even though everyone is supposed to stay at home, he and his ministers keep saying that workers have to be at work if they cannot work from home: this applies to millions of workers. Macron is benefitting at the moment from a situation where there is no mass left political opposition to represent the interests of the workers and youth and put forward the demands of the workers, primarily in the health sector. But much will change after the present emergency is over.
It is now nearly two weeks since the first round of the municipal elections took place on Sunday, 15 March, as the coronavirus epidemic was escalating. The French government decided to continue to run these elections as it believed the panic that it had stirred up the previous week would work in its favour. But even with all its manoeuvres, this did not succeed.
In Paris, the En Marche candidate, the former Minister of Public Health, Agnès Buzyn, only managed to get 17% of the vote. (And that was even before it was revealed in the press that she thought these elections could not take place because she knew the hospitals were lacking the resources to face the impending catastrophe!) The same thing in Lyon, where Gérard Collomb and the other En Marche candidates failed to obtain more than 15%.
In Le Havre, despite appearances, the Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, suffered a big defeat, with the loss of nearly 8,900 votes and a vote tally that dropped from 52% in 2014 to 43.6% this year. Rennes, Rouen, Besançon, Mulhouse… in all of these towns and many others, Macron’s supporters obtained mediocre scores, between 10 and 15% of the vote. Once again, En Marche has confirmed that it does not have support among the public.
Voter turnout at its lowest point
Equally, there was a very low turnout of voters – 45% – who made it to the ballot box, a record (it had been at 64% in 2014). In fact, this first round reflects the general situation in a distorted kind of way. Sibeth N’Diaye, the spokesperson for the government, again stood out with her stupidity in qualifying the elections ‘a democratic moment that proceeded very successfully’. But these elections, even though the government had urged citizens to stay at home and had banned protests, were held in an atmosphere of fear and panic. When it comes to democracy, Macron once again proves that it is only relevant when it suits them.
In the end, in numerous towns and local councils, the outgoing team won the majority of votes: Paris, Lille (but with less than a third of votes cast), Toulouse, Nantes. This is due notably to the notorious behaviour of the outgoing mayors and to the fact that their teams have all the tools and large resources at their disposal to carry out their campaigns. This is very common in municipal elections. In 20,600 councils out of 35,000, the mayor was re-elected in the first round. For the time being, with the postponement of the second round, the question of having to repeat the first round or not remains pending.
Unfortunately, this has allowed certain National Rally (formerly National Front – far-right) mayors to make headway (including Fréjus, Beaucaire, Hénin-Beaumont, le Pontet, Hayange) as well as Ménard in Béziers who were re-elected in the first round. (But we are only talking about half a dozen town halls in contrast, for example, with the 133 towns where the mayors from the PCF (French Communist Party) were re-elected in the first round.) Louis Alliot managed to take the lead in Perpignan with 36.5% of the vote and will thereby contest in the second round. But elsewhere, the National Rally (NR) not only did not win any new towns but also registered a number of defeats. Sébastien Chenu, MP for the National Rally, was beaten in the first round in Denain.
In numerous towns, the NR did not present a list to limit the damage (430 against 600 in 2014) and did not avoid scandal. In Strasbourg, the ex-candidate had covered up convictions for racist insults and was forced to withdraw. Their campaign, over which the figure of Marine Le Pen dominated, did not have the desired effect! The National Rally’s results were very bad in the majority of the big cities and for example, in Paris, they only gained 1% of the public vote.
Anti-Macron and anti-austerity mood palpable
In the light of the circumstances, this first round of voting was not able to completely express the anger that exists against Macron, the right wing and all those – from the Socialist Party to the National Rally – who support and implement policies of austerity and privatisation in the local councils. Nevertheless, this mood was expressed in certain cities, such as Marseille, where the successor of Jean-Claude Gaudin of the (right wing) Republicans was beaten by the Socialist Party candidate with a small percentage ahead. In Strasbourg, the outgoing mayor who stood as a candidate under the En Marche label only received 20% of the vote as against 28% for the Europe Ecology (Green) party!
Similarly, in Bordeaux, where Phillipe Poutou of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) supported by FI (France Unbowed – Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party) will go on to the second round with 11.8% of the vote. Or again in Lyon, with the very satisfying hiding given to Gérard Collomb, the former interior minister for Macron before Castaner.
In terms of the campaigns on the ground, the lists which spoke of rejecting Macron’s policies and the ‘Macron-aligned’ candidates, including by denouncing their alliances with the old left, which keep the Socialist Party artificially alive, received a very good response. Sometimes, given the circumstances, this did not automatically translate into a strong vote for (these candidates) everywhere. In Paris, for example, only Danielle Simonnet, candidate for ‘Let’s Decide Paris’ (supported by France Unbowed) exceeded 10% of the vote in the 20th District. But this response shows once more the need for a new political force, lively and democratic, involved in struggles, to organise workers and local people around a fighting programme.
Success for ‘Let’s decide Petit-Quevilly’
In Petit-Quevilly, near Rouen, Gauche Revolutionnaire member, Leïla Messaoudi, led a new electoral list called, ‘Let’s decide Petit-Quevilly’, supported by France Unbowed. Based on a fighting programme, this group managed to win 8.5% of the vote and saw our comrade elected from the first round, as was the mayor, Charlotte Goujon. Our campaign also contributed to reducing the National Rally’s score from 34 to 23 per cent with two seats lost out of the six that they previously had. In order to counter their ‘everything for security’ politics, we ran a campaign based on the restoration of public services and for a council that answers the needs of workers and young people. Our elected municipal councillor will fight them hard throughout the next term as she has always done, alongside the whole team at ‘Let’s decide Petit-Quevilly’.
As the statement released on polling night said, “We thank our fellow candidates on the list, our supporters and all those who campaigned with us. Thank you to everyone who has given their vote to our list! A combative group has been born in Petit Quevilly; count on us to continue the fight.”
The second round will not take place until at least June, but it has already proved to be a real defeat for Macron. The anger will not cease during the lock-down and the campaigns should once more provide the opportunity to reunite and reinforce these new ‘militant groups’ which have flourished all over the country. They should be the seeds of a new political force – a new mass party of struggle, serving the interests of workers and poor people.