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The biggest threat to the French left? Emmanuel Macron

As the Socialist Party suffers heavy losses, the new president is heading for an absolute majority in parliament.

How do you say “landslide” in French? Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist party, La République en Marche – formed just over a year ago – is heading for a true “raz-de-marée” (“tsunami”), the French equivalent to what Theresa May tried, and failed, to secure in the UK general election last week.

And now picture something else. The entire French left is about to disintegrate. It's as if the Labour party disappeared overnight. 

With En Marche predicted to win as many as 455 seats out of the 577 composing the Assemblée Nationale, Macron’s victory is complete. A more than comfortable majority in parliament will ensure that his multiple planned reforms pass unchallenged in the house.

Such a parliamentary landslide would be historically unprecedented in French politics. Macron’s party would make up as much as 70 per cent of sitting MPs, according to AFP – the highest ever parliamentary majority for a French president.

After defeating both “traditional” main parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, in the first round of the presidential election, Macron’s landslide victory in parliament may finish them off. The French left, especially, is sinking fast, and if Macron succeeds in bridging “left and right”, it may well be wiped out for a very long time.

In the first round on Sunday night, the Socialist Party came fifth, with the staggering score of 7.44 per cent of the vote – behind En Marche (32 per cent), the Republicans (21.2 per cent), the National Front (13.2 per cent) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard-left party La France Insoumise (11 per cent).

That no party of the left managed to beat the centre-right or the far right is concerning enough – but in the case of the Socialists, the defeat is crushing.

Just like in the presidential election, where Socialist Benoit Hamon struggled with only 6 per cent of the vote – a sign of the disaster to come – the party’s heavy losses have shown in the first round of the parliamentary vote.

In the North, historically a Socialist territory due to industrial and mining lands, the party has lost all 18 of its MPs in the first round. Twelve of Francois Hollande’s former ministers, including Hamon himself, have been eliminated. Big names such as Cécile Duflot, Aurélie Filippetti, and Emmanuelle Cosse have been voted out – imagine the moment Ed Balls lost his seat but with Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Chuka Umunna losing theirs, too. Le Monde has counted 95 Socialist MPs who have already lost their seats and more could risk theirs in the second round, including Hollande’s former education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

Macron’s En Marche is wiping out the French left faster than anyone imagined. As for Mélenchon’s Insoumis, they are lagging behind Le Pen’s National Front. They may ultimately win more seats than the far-right in the run-up, but their voice in parliament, and thus of the Socialists, will be a noise in the background.

Both parties refused to make their presidential bid a common cause and opened the way to Macron, who will parade in parliament without a credible opposition. What’s left of them after 19 June will have to unite to survive.

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Is it OK to punch a Nazi?

There are moral and practical reasons why using force to stop a far-right march is justified.

It says a great deal about Donald Trump that for the second time under his Presidency we are having to ask the question: is it OK to punch a Nazi?

More specifically, after the events in Charlottesville last weekend, we must ask: is it OK to turn up to a legal march, by permit-possessing white supremacists, and physically stop that march from taking place through the use of force if necessary?

The US president has been widely criticised for indicating that he thought the assortment of anti-semites, KKK members and self-professed Nazis were no worse than the anti-fascist counter demonstrators. So for him, the answer is presumably no, it’s not OK to punch a Nazi in this situation.

For others such as Melanie Phillips in the Times, or Telegraph writer Martin Daubney, the left have seemingly become the real fascists.

The argument goes that both sides are extremists and thus both must be condemned equally for violence (skipping over the fact that one of the counter-protesters was killed by a member of the far right, who drove his car into a crowd).

This argument – by focusing on the ideologies of the two groups – distracts from the more relevant issue of why both sides were in Charlottesville in the first place.

The Nazis and white supremacists were marching there because they hate minorities and want them to be oppressed, deported or worse. That is not just a democratic expression of opinion. Its intent is to suppress the ability of others to live their lives and express themselves, and to encourage violence and intimidation.

The counter-protesters were there to oppose and disrupt that march in defence of those minorities. Yes, some may have held extreme left-wing views, but they were in Charlottesville to stop the far-right trying to impose its ideology on others, not impose their own.

So far, the two sides are not equally culpable.

Beyond the ethical debate, there is also the fundamental question of whether it is simply counterproductive to use physical force against a far-right march.

The protesters could, of course, have all just held their banners and chanted back. They could also have laid down in front of the march and dared the “Unite the Right” march to walk over or around them.

Instead the anti-fascists kicked, maced and punched back. That was what allowed Trump to even think of making his attempt to blame both sides at Charlottesville.

On a pragmatic level, there is plenty of evidence from history to suggest that non-violent protest has had a greater impact. From Gandhi in to the fall of the Berlin Wall, non-violence has often been the most effective tool of political movements fighting oppression, achieving political goals and forcing change.

But the success of those protests was largely built on their ability to embarrass the governments they were arrayed against. For democratic states in particular, non-violent protest can be effective because the government risks its legitimacy if it is seen violently attacking people peacefully expressing a democratic opinion.

Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to embarrass a Nazi. They don't have legitimacy to lose. In fact they gain legitimacy by marching unopposed, as if their swastikas and burning crosses were just another example of political free expression.

By contrast, the far right do find being physically attacked embarrassing. Their movement is based on the glorification of victory, of white supremacy, of masculine and racial superiority, and scenes of white supremacists looking anything but superior undermines their claims.

And when it comes to Nazis marching on the streets, the lessons from history show that physically opposing them has worked. The most famous example is the Battle of Cable Street in London, in which a march by thousands of Hitler-era Nazis was stopped parading through East End by a coalition of its Jewish Community, dockworkers, other assorted locals, trade unionists and Communists.

There was also the Battle of Lewisham in the late 70s when anti-fascist protesters took on the National Front. Both these battles, and that’s what they were, helped neuter burgeoning movements of fascist, racist far right thugs who hated minorities.

None of this is to say that punching a Nazi is always either right, or indeed a good idea. The last time this debate came up was during Trump’s inauguration when "Alt Right" leader Richard Spencer was punched while giving a TV interview. Despite the many, many entertaining memes made from the footage, what casual viewers saw was a reasonable-looking man being hit unawares. He could claim to be a victim.

Charlottesville was different. When 1,000 Nazis come marching through a town trying to impose their vision of the world on it and everywhere else, they don't have any claim to be victims.