French election: Remake the centre to outflank extremists

France will elect a president tomorrow and, if the opinion polls are correct, centrist Emmanuel Macron will defeat the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. A poll released yesterday showed that the pro-EU Mr Macron has extended his lead.

French election: Remake the centre to outflank extremists

Almost two thirds, 62%, are expected to endorse him. This puts him in a far stronger position than the still-in-denial Hillary Clinton was before America voted last year, so victory for Ms Le Pen — now considered almost unthinkable even though 38% of voters say they will support her — would be even more confounding than Donald Trump’s.

A Le Pen victory would be unthinkable on so many levels, for France and for Europe, but so too are the Trump presidency and Brexit. President Le Pen would deepen the pessimism provoked by the Trump, Erdogan, Orbán and Brexit votes. In European terms, it might be more significant and destructive than Brexit.

It would be a real body blow to the prevailing values of today’s tolerant, generally decent and stable Europe. The European unity, the European collegiality that has done more than anything — probably even more than Irish independence — to advance our society would be in jeopardy.

Nonetheless, that Ms Le Pen has got this far is troubling. Her prominence — 7.6m people voted for her in the first round — builds on a pattern that disenfranchises those who wish to support moderate, rational, and humane politics; the middle ground has become a no man’s land.

So many of the options offered to voters are from the fringes of what might be described as the known, well-travelled world of politics. Increasingly, the choice seems to be between the least unattractive of unattractive alternatives. Trump or Clinton, May or Corbyn, Erdogan’s autocracy or a feeble, challenged democracy, Foster or O’Neill.

Theresa May’s toxic, delusional, and dishonest tirade this week was a perfect example of cynicism dressed as outrage. Of course, she was electioneering but her mendacity and disregard for her party’s position or its consequences for others mean that parallels between her and Ms Le Pen can’t be ignored.

Are there any real differences between the Tory right and the National Front? Maybe in emphasis and culture but hardly in intent. Both seem determined to return their country to the every-man-for-himself Europe that predated the Treaties of Rome. What a sorry prospect.

The bigger question is how have we, how has the West, arrived at this dangerous crossroads? Why are the choices facing so many electorates so uninspiring, so very limiting?

The rejection — justified — of the established parties of France in favour of a hedgefund manager who has never stood for office screams dissatisfaction. So too does our increasingly fractured and dysfunctional Dáil.

Though there are complicating factors the contrived implosion at Stormont is another example of politics beyond moderation.

We are on the cusp of generational change in Irish politics and those who succeed today’s leaders will face many challenges, but rejuvenating the centre may be the greatest. The alternative is far grimmer than we might yet imagine.

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