UK and France: A tale of two nations

Published : 19 Mar 2022 09:10 PM

Let’s begin this tale of two cities in Paris. If the French presidential election were held today, it would be a walkover for Emmanuel Macron.

Three weeks ago, as Russian forces swept over the border west into Ukraine and began their military operations in earnest, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared on a nationally televised broadcast carried on all of the major networks there.

The incursion, he said, “was a turning point in the history of Europe and of our country, one that would have profound, lasting consequences for our lives.”

There is little sign that hostilities will be over by the time French voters head to the polls in the first round of presidential elections on April 10 — but every sign that Macron easily leads the field and, more importantly, will be able to easily win a second term in the run-off voting two weeks later.

What might have been a hard-fought campaign for Macron, now it is a cakewalk — if ever that can be said about any electoral contest.

He was always going to face a candidate from the right in the run-off — but given that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen as an admirer in the ranks of the right, the events in Ukraine have changed that. Marine Le Pen was quick to distance herself from Putin.

France’s place in a new Europe

Now, the campaign is firmly focused on France’s place in a new Europe, one that is united, backs the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. And that doesn’t sit in the same political sphere as a xenophobic France where refugees are shunned, and one that puts up borders and challenges to newcomers. Tell that to the three million Ukrainian refugees who are now living in the EU and in numbers growing with each passing hour.

So yes, a cakewalk for Macron — even if he did only officially confirm his candidacy on March 3.

The latest polls from France on the left look at life sharing about 30 per cent votes between them, while the two on the right will share a slightly larger amount. Marcon? How about 33 per cent support now and rising with each day. And he’s hardly campaigning — instead working the phones between the EU capitals and pressing President Putin to halt military activity and follow the diplomatic route at the peace table.

If Europe was looking for someone to fill the shoes of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, then step right up Emmanuel.

Le Pen is fighting her third presidential campaign and even though she has toned down her right-wing policies, the events in Ukraine have left her somewhat wrong-footed. She no longer calls for France’s exit from the EU or the euro. Once Russia-Ukraine crisis began, the whole European agenda changed. It’s about defence and stability, securing Europe. Making it stronger.

Even coronavirus played into Macron’s hands. In response to the pandemic, the formerly fiscally conservative leader became an overnight spender, unleashing a major stimulus package and more than €27 billion (Dh1.09 billion) in government-backed wages for millions of laid-off workers. And now that the French economy is growing again, unemployment rates have plunged to just over seven per cent, the lowest level in close to 15 years. Is it any wonder the six candidates on the left are finding little room to stand out in fighting Macron’s economic policies?

Come the early morning hours of Monday, April 25, Marcon will be secure in his second term — and easily so.

Johnson's fate

But what of the fate of Boris Johnson.

Since Russian-Ukraine conflict began, nary a word has been mentioned about partygate. For months, with each passing day, a new scandal enveloped the British Prime Minister. Now that Ukraine is in spotlight, Boris is seeing something of a bounce in support. But, make no mistake, he is still very much deep in the political doghouse.

According to polls last weekend, a majority of voters still want to see him resign. A month ago, before Ukraine, nearly two in three wanted him gone. Now, in the middle of the most serious security crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War, at least every other voter wants him gone, with 53 per cent saying it’s time he went.

British political scientists refer to this as “Falklands effect”. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher seemed down and completely out in opinion polls before Argentine generals ordered their troops into the Falkland Islands in April 1982.

They are a scattering of British overseas territories in the South Atlantic that few knew exactly where they were. Maggie sent a flotilla of merchant ships and navy vessels steaming off, took back the islands and won two more terms as Prime Minister.

When it comes to the crisis in Ukraine, more than half think the UK government hasn’t done enough, and more than 63 per cent believe that the Johnson government is mishandling the whole issue of refugees from Ukraine. 

The government is offering Britons £350 a month to house Ukrainian refugees and at least 100,000 applied for the scheme on the first day. Just 500 Ukrainians made it to Britain — the visa rules were unnecessarily complex — within the first three weeks of the flood of humanity from their homeland.

Mick O’Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News