Speaking on the TV channel France 24 just before the results of the first round of the French presidential were announced on 23 April 2017, John Gaffney, Professor of Politics and Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe at Aston University in Birmingham in the UK, said that the Fifth Republic might be breaking down.
Of the four main candidates, three declared themselves to be outside the system and as such as outside the “establishment” – and yet, the two “finalists” who will proceed to the second round on 7 May are hardly outsiders.
Marine Le Pen is of course the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front, the party his daughter now leads, while Emmanuel Macron is a former government minister, former investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque and, almost inevitably, an enarque.
Gaffney, however, is wrong to concentrate on France, since similar processes are at work in Britain, the United States, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give the place its full official designation, is of course composed of four different countries, but except for the home rule often enjoyed by Northern Ireland since the 1920s, it was a fairly centralized state. Even after the devolution of some powers to Scotland and Wales in 1998, the UK remains de jure a unitary state since the devolved powers remain with the UK’s central government.
Following the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, the situation in the United Kingdom is clear, but the outcome is not. British Prime Minister Theresa May has just called for a general election to be held on 8 June 2017, which her Conservative Party is likely to win with an increased majority.
May’s determination to push ahead with Brexit is at odds with Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, which in the 2016 referendum voted to remain in the European Union.
Many observers believe these differences could ultimately lead to the break-up of the UK itself, with Scottish independence and the reestablishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – and a resurgence of the troubles between northern and southern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In the United States, we believe that Trump’s victory on 8 November 2016 could signify the beginning of the end of America’s Sixth Party System.
Barely acknowledged in the wake of Trump’s victory were two important trends or developments in the United States.
The idea that Hispanics/Latinos, Asians and Muslim immigrants etc. would necessary vote for the Democrats was always questionable. Many arrive in the US not to take full advantage of the system and get welfare, but to exploit the opportunities accorded by hard work – attitudes which are more in line with Republican values.
The other trend is that Trump won slightly more of the black vote than Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012.
Again there is a false assumption that all blacks must necessarily vote Democrat, and yet there are signs that here too, republican values are spreading among blacks, albeit slowly. Some blacks explicitly rejected Obama because they disagreed fundamentally with his policies.
Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon and other observers are therefore absolutely right – if Trump and the Republicans succeed in improving the lot of black Americans and they then begin to defect to the Republican Party, the Democratic Party will be in serious, and possibly even terminal trouble.
As the results of the first round of the presidential elections show, France too has shifted to the right.
As in the United States, voters complained in interviews to journalists that they have tried the right and tried the left, yet no one on either side of the political spectrum listened to them, let alone solved their problems, as we noted in earlier posts today.
The paradoxical result is that the two candidates who have made it into the second round on 7 May 2017 are in many ways very weak in political terms.
Marine Le Pen’s party has only two Members of Parliament out of 577 seats, while Emmanuel Macron does not even have a political party at all – many, including Macron himself, see En Marche! more as a movement than a party – its official name is Association pour le renouvellement de la vie politique – Association for the Renewal of Political Life.
The French Constitution gives a lot of powers to the president, but it remains to be seen how the new incumbent will operate on being elected after the second round on 7 May 2017 with such a weak parliamentary base and, indeed, how elections to the National Assembly, France’s parliament, will turn out just a month later on 11 and 18 June 2017.
But one thing is certain – political uncertainty will continue to haunt major western countries for the foreseeable future, with all the profound implications that has for security and the economy.