When I said the other day that Emmanuel Macron, installed yesterday as France’s new President, was considering the appointment of Manuel Valls as his prime minister, what I meant, of course, was that he wasn’t.
Valls, who spent two-and-a-half years as PM under the now-departed François Hollande, had earlier announced that Socialism was dead and that he intended to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections as a member of Macron’s all-new, middle-of-the-road party, En Marche.
Sadly for the lugubrious Barcelona-born exponent of the New (now Old) Left, the En Marche secretariat was unimpressed and has refused to issue him with a party card. Macron could still draft him, but the chance – always a bit fanciful – is now remote. He will have done himself no favours by describing the President in a newspaper interview yesterday as méchant – “mischievous,” “naughty” or, just possibly, “malicious” (take your pick) – for not welcoming him on board.
Instead, the President will reportedly announce his choice as prime minister today before jetting off to Berlin to coordinate his European strategy with Angela Merkel. He could go for a safe(ish) pair of hands in the conservative Alain Juppé, or for the scarf-loving director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde (still notionally of the left), or he could opt for one of his own trusties, who joined En Marche in its first, uncertain weeks of life.
At any rate, the 39-year-old is up and running and clearly ready for the fray. At yesterday’s handover ceremony at the Elysée Palace, he practised hard looking presidential. As the band of the Republican Guard played for rather too long following his arrival at the podium, he took in the scene as if he were a pre-revolutionary Bourbon, surveying the faithful, amusing himself by wondering who should live and who should die. It must have been gratifying for him as he made his way through the throng of sycophants vying to grasp his hand to recall that only months before many of them wouldn’t have given a sou for his chances.
He must milk his popularity while he can. Triumph is short-lived in politics and Macron has promises to keep. Reality should kick in the moment he gets back from Germany. No sooner will the top jobs have been handed out than those selected will be wondering if they can hold on to them following the June elections. The polls say that En Marche, many of whose candidates are untried and unknown, will do well, but achieving a majority in parliament at this stage is probably beyond its reach and an accomodation may well be required that brings in disaffected conservatives as well as dissident Socialists. Everything is up in the air and it is the voters who will decide.
As for Manuel Valls, still only 54, he is now a leader without a party. As the crumpled figure of François Hollande putters into the sunset, comforted by his armed guard, his state-funded staff and his considerable executive pension – to say nothing of his mistress Julie Gayet – his faithful number two will be left to wonder where it all went wrong.