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Emmanuel Macron's policies play into the hands of Marine Le Pen

Macron ran on an unapologetic economically and socially liberal platform, and seems to have carried with him a wave of popularity. But this idea is a fantasy.

Since Sunday, when Emmanuel Macron saw off the far-right populist Marine Le Pen to win the French presidency, the streets of Paris and the headlines of liberal newspapers have been full of relief. In a matter of months, there will be riots. The left is, of course, right to celebrate the defeat of Le Pen, whose presidency would have torn the EU apart, persecuted minorities and made the insurgent far right mainstream across Europe. But the temptation to view Macron as a saviour of liberal or inclusive politics, or of the European project, must be resisted. If anything, both the results of the election and the likely realities of a Macron presidency are markers of one of the most dangerous moments in recent European history.

Almost 11 million people have now voted for Marine Le Pen – about the same number as voted Conservative at the last general election, and roughly double the number that voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 presidential run-off. In France, as across the western world, the electoral success of the far right has been made possible by reflecting deeply felt economic insecurity and declining living standards, and offering solutions which involve both ending neoliberal economics and attacking immigrants and minorities. The new far right operates as an anti-establishment insurgency.

During the final heated TV debate of the campaign, Macron confronted Le Pen with the reality that she was “a parasite” – “a product of the system you condemn”. The point was well made, but Macron is the living embodiment of that system – and not just because he is a former banker and senior civil servant who went through France’s elite education institutions and has never been elected to anything before.

François Hollande’s descent from enjoying electoral victory in 2012 to being one of the most unpopular Presidents in France’s history was marked by a series of austerity measures which stripped away workers’ rights. Among the most significant of these is literally called the "Macron Law". In government, Macron now plans to sack 120,000 civil servants and to cut public spending by €60bn. While promising more deregulation of the labour market, he will cut corporation tax from 33 per cent to 25 per cent and actively promote trade deals like TTIP and Ceta.

Macron’s programme is centred around a straightforwardly neoliberal economic policy which will lead to further economic insecurity for many. It will most likely be delivered by a government comprised not of one party but of figures from all of the big establishment parties – centre-left Socialists, centre-right Republicans and an assortment of centrist forces. As it stands, when Marine Le Pen runs again in 2022, she will be running against a political establishment that has huddled together and delivered a slightly nastier version of an already unpopular economic model.

And there is another danger at play – that the left in Britain and elsewhere will learn all the wrong lessons. For a generation of pundits and aspiring politicians on the modernising right wings of Europe’s social democratic parties, Macron’s decisive second round victory will look like a way out of the polarisation that is demolishing the certainties that held together the political universe of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder. Macron ran on an unapologetic economically and socially liberal platform, and seems to have carried with him a wave of popularity.

This idea is a fantasy. Macron managed just over 23 per cent of the vote in the first round of the election, following the friendly withdrawal of veteran centrist François Bayrou and the defection of many of the Socialist Party’s leading lights whose party selected a candidate they didn’t like. An overwhelming portion of the votes which came to Macron in the second round came to him simply because he was not Le Pen, with just 16 per cent backing him because of his programme.

As Stephen Bush points out, the fact that Macron has managed to win by fighting, rhetorically at least, toe-to-toe with the nativist right rather than adopting their policies like so many other centrists have, is cause for hope. But it is difficult to imagine a more toxic set of standard-bearers for tolerance and globalism than the very same politicians whose policies created the social conditions for the far right. Another five years of the European elite continuing with the status quo while waxing lyrical about the values of integration is not a strategy for saving the EU – it is laying yet more dynamite under its foundations.

There is, of course, an alternative. To beat the far right, progressives must match a principled defence of free movement and social progress with a transformative, insurgent economic programme that redistributes wealth, restores jobs and public services, and democratises the economy and the state. Despite his Euroscepticism, a radical left Jean-Luc Melanchon presidency would have held far greater prospects for revitalising the European project and beating back the far right. On this side of the channel, however improbable and precarious is may seem, the Jeremy Corbyn project provides the best hope of providing that alternative. 

 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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