The Sunday Telegraph
No wonder the French prefer Boris to Macron
Emmanuel Macron showed us yet again this weekend that he cannot resist needling the British Prime Minister. But while this is usually a surefire popularity boost among French voters, there is a complicating factor at play: it’s far from clear that the electorate back home would back him over Boris.
According to a recent poll, commissioned by the Gaullist Le Millénaire think tank, Boris Johnson is France’s favourite national politician, with 51 per cent of the French having a favourable opinion of him. This puts him well ahead of Emmanuel Macron (33 per cent), Marine Le Pen (28 per cent), or the current likely conservative presidential candidate, Xavier Bertrand, 29 per cent.
With the next presidential election in 11 months’ time, this hardly bodes well. Macron was unpleasantly reminded this week that he’s not every Frenchman’s tasse de thé, when, during a provincial walkabout (in effect an early campaign foray) in the Drôme, he was slapped, not terribly hard, by a 28-year old man on the dole.
At the G7 summit we saw Boris playing the host, laughing with the Queen, and bumping elbows with Joe Biden and even Ursula von der Leyen. Macron came across as wooden and awkward, at his worst standing far too close to Joe Biden while earnestly – and rather oddly – patting him on the chest and arm.
Believe it or not, this was Macron in full charm mode. His meteoric rise was helped by his ability to wow elder political figures with his own brilliance, all intensity and eye contact. While we don’t yet know whether the G7 performance worked on Biden, Macron’s appeal is certainly wearing off when it comes to the French people.
The main catalyst has not been his style but rather the vaccine disaster. In the early days of Macron’s presidency, the bargain in France was that in return for their haughty behaviour, our political class could at least be relied on to provide cold, competent governance. Yet even that proved to be beyond them. Back in March, Macron told us that “the only solution to organise a vaccine campaign is through the EU”. At the time, Britain had vaccinated 10 times as many people as France – and the French noticed.
To this day, France’s chattering classes, largely in sync with their North London counterparts, still jump at any hint that, finally, come goldflecked wallpaper or Jersey gunboats crisis, Boris Johnson will get the comeuppance they feel he deserves. But what the Le Millénaire poll proves is the fundamental disconnect between our elites and the country at large. Just as in Britain, Boris is a politician who reaches parts others can’t.
In a country that regularly rates among the most pessimistic on the planet, it turns out that ebullience, optimism and can-do spirit are hugely attractive. Take that zip-line caper. Had it been Macron up there, he would have been white with anger at being made to look a fool and heads would have rolled. The French look jealously across the Channel at a leader who can make his country feel good. The only comfort for Macron is that the voters may yet decide he is the best of a bad bunch – and that Boris cannot run against him.