The pace is picking up in France. Manuel Valls, who resigned as the Socialist Government’s prime minister five months ago in a vain bid to be his party’s presidential candidate (a race he must now be relieved to have lost), has announced that he plans to stand under the banner of President-Elect Macron’s En Marche movement in next month’s parliamentary elections.
The Socialist Party – a mainstay of politics in France since the foundation of the Fifth Republic – is, he says, dead, but its values continue. Is the Barcelona-born “progressive” simply climbing on to a convenient band wagon, or is he a genuine convert? For the moment it is difficult to say. If Emmanuel Macron is the gallic Tony Blair, perhaps Valls is poised to become its David Owen. They would certainly be likely bedfellows.
But Valls was not the only one to spring a surprise yesterday. Down in the Deep South, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, 27-year-old niece of the defeated Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, resigned out of the blue as one of her party’s only two sitting MPs. More old-school than her aunt, with views on immigration and French identity redolent of her grandfather, Jean-Marie, she says she needs time off from politics but may return to the fray at a later date. Le Pen the Even Younger had been touted as the Great White Hope of the Far Right, and her departure leaves a gaping hole in its strategy of pursuing younger voters.
The Front National did well last Sunday, winning 34 per cent of valid votes cast. But it did not do well enough. Marine Le Pen says she will undertake a radical transformation of the party over the course of the next five years, starting, we are told, with a new name that does not evoke images of the wartime Milice. In the meantime, what she needs is a strong parliamentary bloc, and the departure of her niece to a Provençale Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises is not the start she would have wished.
If En Marche agrees to adopt Valls, the former adjutant to outgoing President François Hollande could be one of scores of Socialists ready to defect to what is for now the dynamic centre of French politics. It is even possible, though a bit of a long shot, that he could be parachuted into his old job, bringing much-needed experience as well as a rump parliamentary following to the incoming administration.
At the same time, on the other side of the divide, various Conservative renegades may equally stand ready to cash in on the New Order. Power is not just an aphrodisiac, it is also a magnet.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
June’s elections to the Assemblée Nationale are the vital next step for the 39-year-old Macron. He only has enough battle-ready candidates to compete in around half of the 577 available seats. In order to construct a parliamentary majority he will either have to form a centrist coalition after the elections or else take on defectors from right and left willing to switch to En Marche.
What the result would be in terms of practical legislation remains to be seen. Macron, a reformer rather than a revolutionary, has clear goals in mind: to cut back public sector jobs, extend the working week, ease the regulatory burden on employers and, by means as yet undisclosed, somehow contain the ever-present threat of islamist terrorism. As a true believer in the European Project, he also hopes to find time to press for a restructuring of the EU, most obviously in respect of the single currency and governance of the Eurozone. Valls probably agrees with 90 per cent of this and would undoubtedly welcome the opportunity to rescue his reputation by actually getting things done instead of constantly having to apologise for failure.
Macron has reportedly already made his choice as prime minister. It may be Valls, but more likely it will be one of the George Osborne-like technocrats the ex-Rothschilds banker has assembled around him over the last 12 months. Les jours de gloire sont arrivés. Marine Le Pen can ony wish she had such problems.