What happened to the Macron revolution? The so-called gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) began as a protest movement against a new eco-friendly diesel tax, but have morphed into an anti-austerity, anti-globalisation, anti-Macron street movement demanding the French President’s resignation. Weeks of angry (and sometimes violent) protests have sent shockwaves through French politics, and Macron has been forced to offer concessions, whilst warning a minority of protesters that rioting and looting will not be tolerated. How did it come to this?

For many French voters, Macron’s new way of doing politics looks very similar to the old ways. The promise of the En Marche! movement was an end to the stale old “left-vs-right” politics, and the beginning of a new, dynamic, people-led movement that brought in ideas from across the political spectrum. However, after winning an impressive majority in the National Assembly, Macron has been accused of arrogance and elitism, and of failing to listen to people with different views. Given that Macron’s rise was built on the collapse of the centre-right and centre-left vote, where does that leave French politics?

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Baudouin, arguing that voters today are enthused by politicians such as Macron (he sent us this comment before the protests by the gilets jaunes) because they reject the old “left-right” political spectrum. Baudouin argues that the public want ideas that build bridges between right-wing and left-wing politics, which sound a lot like the “third way” championed by Tony Blair in the 1990s.

To get a response, we put Baudouin’s comment to Alexander Stubb, the former Prime Minister of Finland, when we spoke to him at the State of Europe roundtable in Brussels (organised by the think tank Friends of Europe). What would he say?

For another perspective, we also put Baudouin’s comment to Jonathan Wheatley, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Oxford Brookes University and Co-Founder of the Preference Matcher consortium, an academic consortium developing e-literacy tools to enhance voter education. How would he respond?

The old left-right dichotomy, the way I can see it, is still relevant, but it’s not the only dimension in the political composition. Economic issues are at the forefront of many policies: the debate is between the economic left and the economic right: the idea of redistribution of wealth and more state involvement in regulating entrepreneurial activity against the idea of the unfettered free market. That is still relevant, especially after the period of austerity.

However, the evidence that I see is that, as well as this economic left-right dimension, a cultural dimension seems to be more and more relevant. The cultural dimension is sometimes referred to as the dimension between “open” and “closed”, and is about how you see the outside world. It is about whether you think government should look after ‘people like me,’ whether it’s your national community or straight white men or whatever, or whether you think, on the other hand, that you’re a ‘citizen of the world’ and the outside world, in all its diversity, is something good and UK membership of the EU is something good.

I think this divide across Europe, especially across northern Europe, seems to be not replacing, but co-existing with the existing left-right dimension. Perhaps over the last generation there has been a widening of the divide between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of globalisation. This was the proposal of Hanspeter Kriesi et al. For some reason the losers of globalisation, if you like, feel that things are moving too fast and they want to stop the clock and go back to 1950s. They congregate near the ‘closed’ pole of this dimension, and this may explain the rise of the populist right, which is not economically right, it is ‘culturally right’ if you like.

In southern Europe you may get somewhat different dynamics. In Spain, against the backdrop of austerity, among those that have ‘lost’ have been young people, who are not so much into culturally exclusive politics and reject neoliberalism – the sort of notion that the free market is the only way to run economies. Instead of getting a rise in the populist right, you’ve got a left movement in Podemos. In northern Europe, on the other hand, it seems that ‘open’ versus ‘closed’ seems to be as relevant as left-right in the old-fashioned economic sense.

We also had a comment from Tudor, who argues what we’re actually seeing is the centre collapsing in European politics. Is he right? Is politics moving to the extremes, while the centre-ground is left abandoned?

I think, to a certain extent, this is the case. You are getting increasing polarisation. In part it’s about the population but it’s more about political elites. Compare the data on both the population and elites from the 2015 and the 2017 UK elections – only two years, but there was the Brexit referendum in between which you would think would cause great polarisation. Actually, I found that on the cultural ‘open-closed’ axis, amongst the population as a whole, there was very slight polarisation between those two dates, but it’s very, very minor.

What actually seems to have happened is that the political elites are drawing much more from the two extremes on the spectrum in those two years. Now, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been a gradual polarisation along this ‘open-closed’ dimension over, perhaps, the last generation due to the divide between the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of globalisation. There is an element of instrumentalisation by political elites as they see there is a market for certain positions. Therefore, it is used for their own electoral gains.

So perhaps, although the tectonic plates have been gradually shifting over a generation, it’s only now that we seem to be seeing big changes not on the supply side (in other words voters), but on the demand side (political parties). They seem to be shifting around quite significantly.

But another thing that is worthy of note is that in most European societies, people’s positions along the ‘open-closed’ dimension may paradoxically have shifted towards “open”. Typically this dimension is associated with other identity issues like gay rights and other things like that, and was referred to as the ‘GAL-TAN’ dimension (‘green, alternative, libertarian’ against ‘traditional, authoritarian, nationalist’) by Hooghe and Marks back in 2002. I think ‘open-closed’ may be more relevant, but there are certainly these other cultural attributes that go with it. Actually, if you look at the population as a whole, right through Europe, people have become more tolerant gradually, over time, on many of these issues. Yet, we see the rise of the populist right. Why is this when the average person is a little bit less in that direction?

Now go back 50 years and the people were often very deeply socially conservative, but their elites were actually pursuing policies that were considered socially progressive. It wasn’t a big issue because that dimension wasn’t salient politically. Suddenly this dimension has become salient politically and elites are using this.

Is left-right politics over? Or are the left and right growing more extreme and polarised, as the centre ground collapses? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – RazvanPhotography; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Jonathan Wheatley (c) Oxford Brookes

44 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Very much relevant piece of writing. I really am totall aghast at the sudden turn of events, and the events which have unfolded as a consequence. Macron certainly did do something wrong, that much is clear. If his actions spark the anger of thousands, of not millions of people across whole of Europe, then there is something wrong with his policies, whether you are left or right, agree or disagree with what he stands for. Lines have to be drawn, and categorizing people into such generalized concepts such as “left vs. right” are outdated in my opinion. A person could be socially left leaning but economically right, or vica versa. Sometimes we need to look past our own self-given titles, be it socialist, democrat, centrist, and simply look at a given issue, analyze it, and take the best course of action which will have the best outcome for the maximum amount of people. Macron should know this and act thereby!

  2. avatar

    I believe that left-right politics won’t disappear for a while. what i believe is that the far left and the far right have taken the discussion from left leaning centralists and right leaning centralists.

  3. avatar

    If France stopped playing Empire and instead spent that money on it’s people’s needs and demands then he would have no internal political problems at the moment.

    • avatar

      You’re right, I do wish it were over. What a drag!

    • avatar

      Yes ….We all wish !!!!!

  4. avatar

    No…. if anything it’s becoming more and more divided- each side sliding into their own extreme. What is over is cetrism and rationality.

    • avatar

      One could almost argue that extreme circumstances call for extreme measures…For example, i believe that right wing parties across European countries ‘benefit’ fron The flood of illegals in their countries by rallying people to their banners.

  5. avatar

    Yes. This is diferent. And it’s not good.

  6. avatar

    Of course not!!! As long as the EU leaders avoid critical issues for Europe’s people anything won’t stop.

  7. avatar

    As long as people continue to vote for outspoken left/right parties we will remain stuck in this stalemate.

  8. avatar

    Left-right politics was never real to begin with. Which you might notice by noting that neither of the candidates in the picture above is left wing.

  9. avatar

    Look at this example…a ship without a captain..only crue menbers…lets make a meeting to decide left or right to avoid those rocks…did you remenber that deck?

  10. avatar

    What does left politics mean and what does right politics mean?

  11. avatar

    Now we have Populism.
    I don’t like it.

  12. avatar

    If with macron and bad with marine worsens

  13. avatar

    Is Macron considered to be left wing???

  14. avatar

    We are fed up with Socialism. Dont want to pay so many taxes, for the Oligarquia.

  15. avatar

    “Gilets jaunes” is more like the Yellow umbrella of HKSAR and white hemlets of Syria. Behind these forces, they look more a coherent force of populism as we know that Trump’s senior adviser Steven Bannon is paying to raise right-wing populist so as to dominate the forthcoming EU parliamentary election. European people are calling for freedom and liberty. Why European people would allow a crazy American president’s ex-adviser to intervene EU politics? Does Europe no such law to prevent foreign intervention of domestic politics? The US has just put a Russian lawyer into jail for she has probably doing let dangerous things than Bannon in Europe. How about EU? Why EU welcome foreign intervention? Is there any law to protect EU from intervention of an adviser of Trump. Even worse, this one has lost in the White House politics and expelled from the power center- White House. EU ought to be very careful when populism starts to grow, the Third World War is close.

  16. avatar

    I believe that the increase of fuel price is not the true reason behind gilets jaunes’ non-French style damages in Paris. It is more directing towards Macron because he is more like a real French president like General Charles de Gaule and Mitterrand rather than those leaders like Sarkozy and Hollande who had been following all directives from the US Presidents who had to seek legitimacy right after being elected in the White House. When the US is openly announced policy orientation from anti-terrorism to “big power competition that is virtually big power confrontation. It is confrontation between US-Russia and US China. Macron and Merkel calling for the building of an independent European army are calls for Europe to free itself from Trump’s chariot of war i.e. NATO. 70 years after World War II, Europe has been putting itself under the protection of the US. 70 years after New China has been under all sorts of US-led sanctions. While China has become the second largest economy, Europe is panicking by Donald Trump and “Decline of Europe”. What is the reason behind? Because Europe has been sacrificing itself to make the American Great. Now the American is not Great anymore, Trump wants Europe to make American great again. Why Europe has to make American Great? Europe is the cultural, political and economic parent of the US. Why Europe cannot become great without the US?

  17. avatar

    Left-right politics are old politics of the last century. We are in a new global era, everywhere is full of opportunities. Why we have to imprison ourselves and mind in old politics. Old politics are mobilized for election purposes and forming alliance during wartime. Nowadays, we are not in war, we are independent individuals and states. We do not live for politics, particularly do not need to get involve in big power politics which Trump has declared the US foreign policy is diverted from anti-terrorism to big power competition. Big power politics means wars. What democracy means is “people” and “rule”. Rule for the people. What European people need is not to make American Great again. After two great wars and the Cold War, what people want should be socioeconomic well beings, personal development, sustainable development of the earth village, peace NOT war, not left or right politics.

  18. avatar

    WHO cares? All are finished not the half.

  19. avatar

    Não á esquerda nem direita, são simplesmente uma cambada de oportunistas que tem como missão eludir os mais distraídos, e se aproveitarem das instituições criando legislação, para o roubo ser considerado legal !
    Not left or right, they are simply a bunch of opportunists who have the task of avoiding the most distracted, and taking advantage of the institutions by creating legislation, for theft to be considered legal!

  20. avatar

    Days ago.. They try To realizite only nothing else. And they play for joke they have power and εξουσία when they Dont have power and one govermend cant do anything for non of them they have… Just dump idols or play Mobil nobody do nothing with them Just wait consequences.. Simple words.

  21. avatar

    That’s because so called leftists in Europe have betrayed their ideals and beliefs and became right populists. Right-wings and conservatives were always easy to tell.

  22. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is left-right politics over?

    There never was any such thing as left-right politics.

    Do you know or have you ever known anyone who is completely one or the other? Does any one you know, or you know what is the meaning of being ‘left’ politically, or, ‘right.’

    Just take the word used to convey the idealism within. Conservative or Liberal. When none if it is Conservative or Liberal.

    • avatar

      Fully agree. We are living in a real world. We need to be pragmatic. Apart from our immediate goods, we need to think further what is good for our society, our country and the whole world. No individual can be happy and secure without corresponding environment for the collective as a whole. Man is a social animal. We survive for so many thousand years because we are clever enough to adhere to the principle of collective security not democracy, left or right politics.

  23. avatar

    Fully agree. We are living in a real world. We need to be pragmatic. Apart from our immediate goods, we need to think further what is good for our society, our country and the whole world. No individual can be happy and secure without corresponding environment for the collective as a whole. Man is a social animal. We survive for so many thousand years because we are clever enough to adhere to the principle of collective security not democracy, left or right politics.

  24. avatar

    I do not worry only for Macron and France where the far right and populism is being mobilized by Donald Trump’s adviser Steven Bannon. It is the unrest created by these far rights populism that is spreading through Europe right now. Why the US can arrest the Russian lawyer who has been doing political lobbying without registration but not Europe? Is Europe protected by such law against foreign intervention of domestic politics?

  25. avatar

    If we can take a quick glance on the very important events since the end of the great war such as the sudden abandonment of the gold standard by the US, the turbulence created by the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, war on terrorism, the 2008 financial crisis broken out from the Wall Street… we can see that each crisis had been able to overcome with collective effort of rational and pragmatic political leadership, never with populism. And during each crisis, Europe integrates further and reform has been done and EU grow more healthy. Today when the world is undergoing very drastic changes particularly at the midst of a restructuring of the global structure in response to the globalization process with the growing a more interdependent and a more interconnected world, no individual country or people would be able to survive without mutual cooperation. Populism, isolationism, radicalism…would never serve us anything good.

  26. avatar

    Why China is growing so quickly? Isn’t it quite simple minded if people believe that China, a country of over 13 billion people, can grow into such a huge economic size and with so many achievements are all achieved by stealing and force transfer of technology? Many researches have confirmed that the open door policy and China’s full speed integration into the global political economy are contributing to all its achievements. Though we have to admit that China is not a developing country anymore. It is time for the WTO to reform. China has no objection to the reform too. It seems that China has already submitted a proposal for reform.
    I suppose that no civilization can grow and prosper with isolationism. So, those who are advocating populism and Brexit in Europe are actually counter-productive and damaging when Europe actually need collective effort to survive the turbulence of the global era. As Angela Merkel has said, Europe can only rely on itself now. Europe can never prosper by support American to become great again. Europe has been trying already this for the past 70 years to support the hegemonic power of the US. The result is we are now panicking with “Europe Decline” . It is time for Europe to have an independent foreign and economic policy as well as its own defence force.

  27. avatar

    Seens the banking system is dictating the policies that governments should follow no matter what, we can’t call any government left or right wing, seens they are going to follow the same policies

    • avatar

      Banking system is dictating government policy is a consequence of democracy when government performance is assessed by economic growth, while economic growth in liberal democracy does not benefit the whole population but growing disparity. This is one of the many paradoxes of liberal democracy. Equality does not apply to everyone. Liberty cannot be enjoyed by everyone. Affluence does not belong to everyone. But we believe this is good because we have votes. The problem is poor people have no desire, no time or even not the opportunity to vote.

  28. avatar

    In this era with the information and technology bursting, it is impossible for government not to have heard what the people said. People have lots of and diverse demands but these demands are largely personal and seldom think on behalf of the collective. What government can do is to balance interests. During the process, it is just normal that some demands would not be able to meet while demand is unlimited but resource is limited. Never any government can meet demands of everyone.

  29. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis, PhD

    There has been no greater misguiding sense than the “left-right” distinction in politics. This bi-polar tool of political analysis has become obsolete in modern times where complexity, instant interaction, global interrelation and correlation provoke so many contradictory trends within local societies as well as internationally. Therefore, progressive vs reactionary as well as traditional vs modern are applicable distinctions that (in matrix form) can enlighten political analysis.

    • avatar

      It seems that Francis Fukuyama is correct, the end of the Cold War marked the “End of History” of ideological evolution. When something stop evolving, it can only lose the dynamism to grow and prosper and eventually comes to a decline. It appears that no one is willing to explore what this new world is heading particularly when a big country of 1/5 of the world population, China is on the rise. What we are still being fed now are still old politics and narratives that have been repeating since the two World War and the Cold War…

  30. avatar

    My impression is on the contrary, the “gilets jaunes” are radical left, which are acting against a modern democracy. These people appear to be replicating new forms of “democracies”in the newly emerged so-called democracies such as the Philippines in Marcos era, Thailand still now, and recently in Venezula, etc. People are mobilized by the opposition party(ies) and manipulating populism and radicalism to overrule popularly elected leaders and force. This is highly dangerous for the development of a heavy democracy. If the oppositions failed to get themselves elected and they have chosen not to play with the rule of democracy, this would destroy the party system and the democracy as a whole. I do not see the “gilets jaunes “is doing France and Western democracy any good.

  31. avatar

    In my opinion, Macron and Angela Mekerel are the very few political leaders who are acting to prevent Europe from decline. When everyone is panicking on Europe decline and US, the long-term ally on which Europe has been relying so heavily is now governing by Trump who is doing everything for the America to be great again, who is ready to sacrifice all allies to achieve his goal, both Macron and Mekerel appear to be going their best to secure European interest and preventing the decline of Europe. European people ought to think more about the collective rather than narrow self-interest. When so many Europeans are working hard to overcome this era of instability in the global political economy, when we are confronting the rise of China and the relative decline of a single military superpower, solidarity of Europe is vitally important.

  32. avatar

    The danger of democracy is over-emphasis of individualism while sacrificing the collective interest. Vulnerable people particularly needs the state and elites to protect. Appealing to populism would not be doing democracy anything good. When party failed to achieve popular support and individuals failed to achieve individual wants, they ought to use their vote to change the government not appeal to radicalism and seek to use violence irrationally as the “gilets jaunes” are doing… The ” gilets jaunes” are damaging democracy, which the West has been so proud of…

  33. avatar
    gianfranco ardisson

    In politics, the sociological dividing line between Right and Left can be traced back to two obsessions:
    – the first (the torment of the Right) is a phobia of elements perceived to be incompatible with commonly used models in society
    – the second (the bane of the Left) is intolerance of models that appear to be imposed by society.
    In order to capture the meaning of these lines, we need to step back in time and recall the turmoil we experienced early in life as we began the process of blending into society when, as kids, we entered Planet School – or more precisely, Planet Classroom.
    Right there in the classroom we’ve all had to deal with a “ problem kid ”: “bad Johnny”- the student with the disrespectful, smug attitude and less than decent grades, the kid in the back that stole your lunch money, the chronic late – comer who seemed to own a single tattered and over – doodled notebook, the bully you best avoided if you didn’t want to find yourself running home bruised and with a ripped school uniform. The hopeless case that once had the nerve to show his privates to the girl in the second row and who always came back from the boys’ room reeking of cigarette smoke.
    No doubt that “bad Johnny” has raised concerns – more for some than for others – within the classroom/society. However, we can’t forget that other classmate of ours who is at the root of perhaps even more devastating issues – “ Peter goody – two – shoes ”. He came from a good family, he always sat in the front row, paid attention in class, gave a helping hand to less fortunate people, had good manners, dressed smartly, respected the teachers, sported perfect hairstyles and neatly organized books. The one who carefully put his school supplies away at the end of class, who always did his homework, who had the best grades- the one who came to school early each morning and couldn’t seem to wait to get started.
    He was a model to look up to, our term of comparison when we sensed we couldn’t be good enough in the world of social competition. In fact, Peter popped up – in more or less obvious ways – any time our parents scolded us or our teacher criticized us.
    And it was “ Peter good – two – shoes ” who really bothered us – especially when we felt his weight bearing down on our heads – a behavioral model imposed upon us by society.
    It is of the utmost importance to note that, for the purposes of this “treatise”, “ Peter goody – two –shoes ” should not be considered “good” in an absolute sense – but rather a model society sees in a positive light (not always rightfully so) and, more than that, tries to impose upon us. Similarly, “bad Johnny ” does not have to be the bad guy – rather just something society – often erroneously – considers negative.

    CONFIRMATION OF “Peter goody – two – shoes” THEORY
    – The idea that humans are intrinsically good belongs to the Left. In this case, “bad Johnny” is not a great danger to society. Leftist ideology borrows Rousseau’s belief that people are good by nature, even if at times they are led astray by society. It is noteworthy that “Peter goody – two – shoes”, the Left’s obsession, represents society and the model it demands to impose.
    – The idea that some people are naturally diabolical is Right-wing: this belief derives from the suspicion that anyone could be a potential evil “bad Johnny”. In the Right’s vision, inspired by Hobbes, humans are evil by nature. They are always out to swindle, subjugate or rob others: hence the “Homo homini lupus” (man is a wolf for men) idea. In this case, it becomes society’s job to correct “bad Johnny” at any cost, if necessary by “sufficiently persuasive” means.
    The “Peter goody – two – shoes” theory is therefore a sociologically relevant construct which delineates the meaning of the dichotomous conundrum afflicting each and every one of us in our relationship with society as a whole:
    – On one hand, the refusal of models society itself endeavours to impose;
    – On the other, the perception of elements not in line with the dominant paradigms as alien to society.

    You can see how Peter goody – two – shoes bothers people who are emotionally Left – wing, while an aversion to bad Johnny is the hallmark of Right – wingers.

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