Emmanuel Macron is facing his first internal revolt since his lightning rise to the French presidency after 100 members of his centrist movement announced they were stepping down over “arrogant” and “undemocratic” methods.
Mr Macron, 39, swept to victory in May in part thanks to the help of an army of grassroots supporters, many with no prior political experience and who were promised they would all have a say in the way his newly-created movement would be run.
But sixth months into the presidency, 100 members of his centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party – from students to elected officials – say they are throwing in the towel, claiming the party as an “affront to the fundamental principles of democracy with an organizational style worthy of the Ancien Régime”.
Instead, they said the party had fallen foul of a Macron personality cult.
“What a shame that by opting for a top-down organisation and a governance by elites, by shunning collective skills and intelligence, LREM has cut itself off from its life force,” they lamented in a letter to headquarters.
Mr Macron himself has a reputation for obsessive discipline, reinforced last week when he berated his ministers for making derogatory remarks about each other to the press at one of the longest cabinet meetings in French political history. His ire was caused by reports that Gérard Collomb, 70, the interior minister, had been nicknamed “His Very Senile Highness” by colleagues.
Above all, the party mutineers said they were appalled at LREM’s intention to “crown” government spokesman and parliamentary relations minister Christophe Castaner as the party’s first leader at a congress in Lyon, southern France, this weekend without consulting party members and “in the absence of competitors”.
Unlike other French parties, the 380,000 members of LREM don’t get to vote for their new leader. Instead a “college” of elected officials, ministers, party executives and 200 party members drawn from a hat do so
“The disdain and arrogance that (we) have been subjected to, the threats and attempted intimidation are not well-intentioned practices and suggest that Republic on the Move has lost the plot,” they wrote in a letter published by France Info.
In a final flourish, they said they were throwing in the towel to avoid being part of a “disappointing ideological vacuum” run by “fawning courtesans”.
While the 100 represented a small percentage of the overall number of party members, their withdrawal highlighted tensions at a crucial time for LREM, created only a few months ago and which now wields a huge majority in parliament.
“The party is in full growing pain mode,” said Jeremy Brossard, political journalist at BFM TV. “What was a start-up party has in a few months, weeks, become a governing party but the stakes are high for the president because he needs relays on the ground, activists who will transmit his words and defend his actions.”
Party leadership dismissed the 100 departures, pointing out that 166,000 had joined in the past six months.
“Some come in, some come out, it’s breathing…that too is democracy,” said LREM MP Florian Bachelier.
After rushing through labour law and wealth tax reforms that critics say favour the well-off, Mr Macron has begun a drive to prove he is not the “president of the rich”.
Two thirds of the French feel they are losing out from his reforms, according to a poll out this week.
The president kicked off the week by spending several hours in a deprived suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on Monday and on Tuesday in northern Tourcoing pledged to “bring back the Republic to the heart of deprive districts” and to fight discrimination.
“I don’t know what ‘president of the rich’ means,” he said.
“I simply know that when there is no economy pulling the country along…deprived neighborhoods don’t do well. There can be no durable social policy if there is no economic success to back it up and that can finance it.”
Defending his decision to cut state-funded temporary jobs, Mr Macron said: “Let those who defend such state-aided contracts take them. They wouldn’t want them for themselves.”
Telegraph , UK