It is time to be wise after the event. Yesterday, French voters turned the politics of their country upside down, leaving both pollsters and the previously all-knowing media shocked, surprised and – you might wrongly suppose – humiliated.

The far-right National Rally, led by former firebrand, now grande dame, Marine Le Pen, did not win the second round of the parliamentary elections. It came third. The governing party of President Emmanuel Macron was not obliterated. It came a respectable second, just 28 seats behind the winners, the New Popular Front, headed by the septuagenarian Marxist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

What happens now is anybody’s guess. Some form of cohabitation between the President’s faction (En Marche, Renaissance, Ensemble – ­ take your pick) and selected bits of the Left, along with the rump of the centre-right Republicans, may be cobbled together. And the resulting lash-up could stagger on for another 12 months until Macron is constitutionally permitted to call fresh elections.

Either that or the President will resign, forcing Le Pen, Mélenchon and whoever manages to seize hold of the centre to battle to the last in an out-of-sequence presidential contest.

That or something else entirely.

Here is what was supposed to happen.

After its stellar performance in last Sunday’s first round of the elections, the National Rally would storm home in first place, perhaps even achieving an overall majority of seats. No one doubted this. Twenty-eight-year-old Jordan Bardella, as Le Pen’s personally annointed dauphin, would be installed as prime minister, bent on giving everybody everything while ridding France of millions of unwanted immigrants.

Chaos, of course, would follow.

Mélenchonso far left he could have given Trotsky a run for his roubles – would immediately unleash the dogs of war, calling on “the people” to take to the streets in pursuit of a second Revolution lacking only the guillotine.

Macron, meanwhile, having misread the national mood as if it had been written in Esperanto, would retire to lick his wounds in the gilded confines of the Élysée Palace, his future for the remainder of his term in office reduced to shaking hands with world leaders and presiding over banquets amid the baroque splendor of Versailles.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, with all parties to the left of Attila the Hun united in defiance of a far-right coup, the immediate crisis was averted. No one won. Everybody lost, so that the increasingly bloated corpse of French governance moved on to its next stage of decomposition. Mélenchon, inevitably, proclaimed himself the victor and at once demanded that he be appointed prime minister. Le Pen, as ever, shifted the goalposts, letting it be known that the tide that would sweep her to power had not yet reached its height but would do so imminently. And Macron, as Jupiter in retrograde, looked on, rubbing his hands, wondering how best to exploit what had happened.

What sense can be made of all this? France, like Britain, is a great country. It cannot go on like this. Just for starters, the Paris Olympics are less than two weeks away. What happens if the Games are marred by violence on the streets of the capital? What is the world supposed to think? Then there is this week’s Nato summit. Over the last six months, Macron has several times repeated that French troops might, in extremis, have to be sent east to bolster the efforts of President Volodomyr Zelenski in resisting the Russian invasion of his country. But both Le Pen and Mélenchon oppose any such direct involvement and, in fact, as old friends of Vladimir Putin, are much more inclined to support peace talks that would most likely leave Russia in possession of one third of Ukrainian territory.

More generally, there are domestic issues to be resolved, most of them to do with the economy. Le Pen and Mélenchon, as populists, want to boost state spending and raise taxes on the rich. They also want to bring the age of retirement down again from 64 to 62, or even, in Mélenchon’s case, to 60. While no longer set on leaving the EU or abandoning the single currency, both want to distance themselves from Brussels – the very opposite of what Macron considers essential for the preservation of peace, prosperity and Europe’s role in the world. Squaring the various interconnected circles is a logical impossibility.

What then? The pundits (shamelessly consigning their previous losing bets to history) are already talking of an end to the Fifth Republic, established by De Gaulle in the wake of post-war divisions and uncertainties. This could happen, but it would be an immensely complicated procedure, hard fought on all sides and requiring the approval of the electorate by way of a referendum. Macron could, in theory, make a Sixth Republic his lasting legacy. Who, though, would put money on such an outcome?

More likely, he will soldier on, with a prime minister and cabinet committed to very little but keeping the show on the road, offering nods to the left and right but nothing that would frighten the horses. One year on, on July 8, 2025, he would in this circumstance call a further round of elections to the National Assembly, hoping that the mercurial French people would for once make up their minds and give real authority to a new  centrist-dominated administration.

That seems to me the most sensible option, though his presidency over the interim period would be an obvious hostage to fortune. As to who is to blame for the unfortunate series of events that have marked his time as President, I attribute it to four factors: Macron’s arrogance (who does he think he is?); the pandemic (over which he, like other world leaders, had only limited control); the resulting stagnation of the economy (made worse by the energy crisis and inflation brought on by the war in Ukraine); and, last but not least, the impact of mass-migration.

But, as a bonus factor, at least as important as the rest, I would throw in the voters. France’s talking heads, ever more numerous and omnipresent on television, radio and social media, love to repeat that no matter the verdict, the people have spoken. It is as if those who cast their votes are attempting to give the politicians a message when, in fact, they are split at least three ways, pitted against each other as surely as armies at war. If you claim that you can read the runes in France, you do so with a cobblestone in one hand and a banner in the other.

Fantasy politics are the norm in France, just as they have been since 1789 when the tumbrils first rolled for the enemies of the people. Everybody, from far-left to extreme right, wants peace and prosperity, with high wages, increased benefits, a perfectly functioning health system, affordable homes and retirement at 60. They expect a generous state pension and a working week that does not extend beyond 35 hours. Many – perhaps most – want an end to mass-immigration and a clear definition of what it means to be French. Other than that, they want to be left alone to lead their own lives, filling their shopping trolleys to bursting point at weekends, driving as fast as they like in diesel cars and spending the whole of August on holiday.

If they don’t get what they want, they are ready to take to the streets. If they only get part of what they want, they are ready to take to the streets. It is in the knowledge that this is the only constant that I confidently predict troubles ahead for France over the next three years.  But, like the media’s talking heads, I could be wrong.

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