I’m in France for the first time in 2 1/2 years. I’ve spoken to many people in the past week who have tried to convince me that I’m underestimating the NUPES, the new party created by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I had been predicting that the NUPES would win a maximum of 100 seats; my informants set 100 as a minimum and see 150 now as a real possibility–a total high enough, if achieved, to allow the new party to play a potential blocking role. This would amount to a real upheaval in the French political system.
Will it actually happen? It has to be conceded that Mélenchon’s tactical acumen has been excellent. By overplaying his hand, he has succeeded in strengthening it. What strikes me is how many of the people I’ve spoken to preface their remarks by saying “I can’t stand Mélenchon, but …” It seems that his boldfaced bluff has created a real dynamic: people believe that a new movement is afoot, and their belief turns an inchoate wish into a veritable movement.
On the other hand, turnout is predicted to be very low, under 50 percent. Mélenchon’s vote is strongest among younger voters, who also are more likely to abstain from voting. So there is a double dynamic at work, and we won’t know which tendency is stronger until the votes are in.
Other unprecedented things are happening. Diplomats have gone on strike, for example. This is truly novel and reflects a belief that Macron, often seen from the outside as the quintessential embodiment of the French administrative elite, has embarked on a crusade to dismantle it from within, first by reconstituting the ENA under a new name, and later by outsourcing some (much?) of the work of the French administration to consulting firms like McKinsey. One informant described the goal as “la consultification” of France. In this respect, Nicolas Mathieu’s novel Connemara, which I wrote about here a while ago, seems prophetic.
Meanwhile, it’s good to be back in Paris, where life seems almost normal. Although the mask mandate in public transport was lifted only a few days ago, few people are wearing masks. Cafés and restaurants are full, tourists have returned, and there are long lines at movie theaters. The new traffic patterns in the streets have encouraged many people to take their bicycles–la vélorution as it has been wittily dubbed–which forces the pedestrian to remain on the alert at all times: crosswalks have become lethal. But an ecologist I spoke too gives Anne Hidalgo high marks both for discouraging automobile traffic and starting work on an “urban forest,” which, it is hoped, will transform the city’s ecology. Her electoral failure, my informant says, was due to a poorly conceived campaign, focused on “regalian” rather than ecological issues. Perhaps. Others I’ve spoken to think that her efforts in Paris alienated many voters. In any case, the city seems a bit calmer than usual, because many people are still working from home and may well continue to do so for the foreseeable future.