French tabloids have pored over his personal life, and marrying his high school teacher after a scandalous love affair certainly raised a few eyebrows. But Emmanuel Macron is poised to raise a few more. This rebellious former cabinet minister has just declared his intention to run as an independent in the 2017 French Presidential election, challenging France’s political establishment.

Macron has an impressive résumé. He studied philosophy and excelled at the prestigious École nationale d’administration before working for the economic ministry and then taking a lucrative position as an investment banker for Rothschild Ltd. Macron was appointed as Secretary General to the Elysée in 2012 and was a special adviser to President Hollande before a promotion in 2014 to Minister for Economics in Prime Minister Valls’ second cabinet. Here, he was outspoken and clashed badly with the Socialist party Left who cast doubt on the former banker’s leftist credentials and resisted his business-friendly market and labour reforms.

In April 2016, Macron launched En Marche! (or “Forward!”), a movement that defines itself as promoting centrist ideas, neither to the left or right of the political spectrum. It enjoys growing popularity with approximately 97,000 members and donations that total €2.7million to date. Establishing this movement while still working in the cabinet led to a stern reprimand from the President, and Macron resigned his post in August 2016.

After months of speculation, this relatively young star of the Hollande government has launched his bid for the presidency. When announcing his candidacy, Macron promised a “democratic revolution”, and to represent those disillusioned with the “emptiness” of French politics. Macron and En Marche! offer an attractive alternative vision to the divisions and inequities in French society that has been likened to New Labour and the Third Way.

So what are his chances? Macron faces challenges and criticism from across the political spectrum. Socialist party voters doubt his leftist credentials, and are troubled by his infamous reforms and banking career. Yet his candidacy exploits the fractures in leftist politics. If Hollande chooses to run, Socialist party members could be torn between backing the Prime Minister Manuel Valls or an unpopular President with dire approval ratings for a second term. Macron’s promise to eradicate inadequacies within the French political system and to protect those in society that it has failed challenges the Socialist Party message, and is poised to gain the traditional working class vote that the left has lost touch with.

From the right, Alain Juppé, the frontrunner for the Republican party candidacy, has attacked Macron for launching En Marche! and decried it as a back-stabbing betrayal of his mentor, Hollande. But this criticism is defensive and highlights the threat that Macron poses to the centre-right candidate. Both are courting centrist voters, and Macron has gained popularity among the elderly and centre-right wing professionals.

The appetite for centrist politics in a country where the Front National took 20 per cent of votes in the last presidential election must be questioned. The populist right may be bolstered by Trump’s victory in the US election, and at a time when anti-immigration and anti-establishment sentiment are rife, it is difficult to see how En Marche! and its staunch opposition to this may succeed. But while some perceive Macron as elitist, he is a newcomer to the political establishment and has never held an elected office. He thus has the chance to become the respectable face of populism.

At present Macron is gaining momentum. In a recent survey, 38 per cent of voters believed he would make a good president, and other polls predict that Macron could receive between 15 and 18 per cent in the first round of the election. En Marche! is just getting started.