Six months into his term, the luck of France’s young, shiny new president is fading. As Emmanuel Macron’s party La République en Marche (LREM), created in April 2016, prepares for its conference on Saturday, 100 members have announced they are leaving, bemoaning a “lack of internal democracy”.
Spokesperson for the French government Christophe Castaner is expected to win the party leadership unchallenged. Although he has said he would resign as spokesperson, he is planning on remaining the official link between the government and parliament, despite the fact 70 per cent of the French public think that if he wins, he should leave all his government positions. Party members and MPs are also insisting that the leadership vote, which will take place during the conference in Lyon, be held as a public show of hands instead of the planned secret ballot.
A party leader, unanimously elected by secret ballot, remaining a member of government: not exactly the “democratic revolution” Macron promised last year when he was running for office. Traditionally, French party leaders are not part of the government.
“The coming coronation of Christophe Castaner, elected leader of the party before his time, for lack of adversaries, leaves to the members little hope for democracy,” reads the article announcing the decision by the 100 marcheurs (from “En Marche”) to walk away.
“La République en Marche is everything but friendly and benevolent, even if it has successfully turned these emotional tendencies into marketing concepts to sell the En Marche product.”
The piece also denounces the new party statutes, a series of rules setting the way the party is governed. Members had already complained in July that the very strict new statutes could would translate into a vertical model of ruling, again contrary to Macron’s promises.
The statutes were adopted very quickly during the summer and members expressed their regret that “the short excerpts or summaries the party deigned to send [them] had nothing to do with the En Marche spirit anymore”.
In their farewell letter, the angry marcheurs describe the “disdain and arrogance” and even “intimidation attempts” they claim they have put up with as members of the party. They conclude: “The 100 citizens that we are, independent, free, human rights activists, partisans of democracy, cannot continue within a movement or party without common policy, that did not manage to base itself on the pillars of democracy and that has denied with arrogance and contempt the intelligence of the people.”
A blow for his party is a blow for Macron; if the group is deemed undemocratic, it adds to his – widely spread – image as a “control freak”. Macron launched and shaped the movement as a bottom-up, revolutionary political organisation offering change, but since his presidential victory, LREM has proved unable to evolve. It’s not just a party – it’s “Macron’s party”, a unique political creature whose only public face and leading figure is the president.
Macron’s own actions have also taken their toll on the movement’s image. He has been lucky that the opposition has struggled to organise, with left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon unable to unite the social movement against labour reforms, while on the far right Marine Le Pen is panicking as her party sinks.
Nevertheless, in the polls the “control freak” president continues to fall. Ten days after his TV interview in October, he was “negatively seen” by 56 per cent of the public, an increase of 5 points from the previous month.
Yet Macron remains the party’s true ruler. “We’re talking about succeeding to Emmanuel Macron [as leader of the party]… No one would risk showing such ambition!” an MP for LREM told Libération last week. Many in government and parliament have shown interest in sitting on the party’s new board, which led Macron to declare that all ministers would be able to take part in the executive office, as long as they’re party members. And as long, we presume, as they remain loyal to their control freak of a boss.