Rioting in the streets. Filling stations running out of fuel. Panic buying in the supermarkets. A country in chaos. Not a dystopian vision of Britain after Brexit, but France in the here and now under that self-styled champion of anti-populism, Emmanuel Macron.
In a piece entitled Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable, The Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliot says that while comparisons with De Gaulle have certainly been made in recent days, but not to the De Gaulle who set up a French government-in-exile in London in 1940, or the De Gaulle who healed the wounds over Algeria in 1958. Inevitably, given the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests that have erupted across France, it is the occupation of the streets of Paris by students and workers in May 1968 that is being recalled.
Like De Gaulle, Macron failed to spot the street protests coming. Like De Gaulle, he seemed out of touch and incapable of a suitable response. And like De Gaulle, he will pay a heavy political price because his USP was that he would never surrender to protesters if they took to the streets and, by suspending higher taxes on petrol and diesel for six months, he has done precisely that.
It is feasible – indeed, desirable – to use the tax system to tackle climate change, but only if the hit to living standards is fully offset by cuts in other taxes. Otherwise it is simply more of the austerity that voters everywhere are rejecting. And it is politically suicidal to be known as the president of the wealthy and then tell voters angry about rising fuel prices to car share or take public transport. That’s not De Gaulle, that’s Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”.
Read Larry Elliot’s article on The Guardian