My article last week about the scandals surrounding Francois Fillon omitted any discussion of the “Independent” candidate Emmanual Macron. To be honest I lumped him in with the Socialist mess and I must now confess that I think I made a mistake in so doing.

Yesterday the Torygraph reported that Macron is now in the lead:

Emmanuel Macron, a centrist independent candidate in France’s election race, is likely to win France’s upcoming election according to a recent poll.

According to Les Echos newspaper, the former protege of Francois Hollande has edged ahead of mainstream right-wing candidate Francois Fillon with 23% of the vote.

This means he is likely to win the first round of voting in the election, going through far-right extremist Marine Le Pen in the second and final round.

Most opinion polls predict he would then beat Le Pen, the leader of the controversial Front National – making him the current favourite to win the race.

So who is Macron? Fortunately the Speccie has an informative article in this week’s issue where they ask who is behind his rise. Quoting from that (and thereby getting some extra value from my subscription. PS you should also subscribe, it’s verr’ naice):

His rapid rise makes Macron a genuine original in French politics and his opponents do not know what to make of him. Unlike all other serious contenders, he has no visible record of political commitment. In 2004 he graduated from the National School of Administration (ENA) and joined the upper civil service. Then, in 2008, he paid €50,000 to buy himself out of his government contract and became an investment banker with Rothschild, where he was highly regarded and quickly made a small fortune. Then, in 2012, with the election of President Hollande, his career took another unexpected change of direction: he left Rothschild to become deputy secretary-general at the Elysée. When Manuel Valls became Hollande’s second prime minister in 2014, with instructions to deregulate the French economy, Macron was catapulted into the economics ministry.

Hollande and Valls congratulated themselves on an imaginative choice, and Macron set out to please Brussels by cutting France’s deficit while encouraging business activity. In 2015 he introduced la loi Macron, a measure designed to stimulate growth by abolishing public service monopolies and union restrictions on hours. This had to be forced through the National Assembly by decree, against the opposition of Socialist deputies, an unpopular move that consecrated Macron as the bête noire of the left.

Macron may be hated by the true believer socialists, and distrusted by the various factions on the right, but I think that despite his apparent ‘outsider’ status, he’s a fraud. Hence this bit of the speccie article, while interesting, is also IMHO, misleading:

While the seven hapless candidates for the Socialist party’s nomination were struggling throughout December to achieve three-figure attendance at their meetings, Macron — with no party machine behind him — was attracting thousands. In Clermont-Ferrand it was 2,500, in Lille 4,000, and in Paris last month 12,000 people packed into the hall to hear him speak.

As a presidential candidate, Macron is seen as an outsider, someone who will ‘break the system’ and challenge the stifling consensus of unions, over-entitled functionaries and remarkably youthful pensioners that prevents France from responding to the challenges of globalisation. He usually describes himself as ‘centrist’ but he also objects to being called ‘anti-socialist’.

I’m pretty sure the key to Macron is the ENA link. Graduates of the ENA – les énarques – tend to run the French state one way or another; taking up leading roles in the civil service, the major corporations and often in political parties. This is not the pedigree of an ‘outsider’. Moreover the Speccie reports

It is clear that Macron has powerful supporters behind the scenes, and a clue may lie in the little-discussed fact that some years ago he was identified as a member of ‘les Gracques’ — a discreet centre-left pressure group loosely staffed by influential chief executives and civil service mandarins.

And the article goes on to speculate that his somewhat unorthodox but meteoric career progress has been assisted by the aforementioned ‘Gracques’. Do the ‘Gracques” sound like reforming outsiders or a bunch of insiders smart enough to realize that they need a front man who can capture the anti-establishment zeitgeist of the last couple of years?

Now consider that Fillon has promised a Thatcherite cull of the Civil Service. While there are indications that Fillon’s scandal resulted from leaks from some of his vanquished right wing competitors, I would be entirely unsurprised if they got some encouragement from the ‘Gracques’. After all  the only candidate that wants to cut the civil service is Fillon. Le Pen actually wants to grow the native French civil service at the expense of the EU.

I’m pretty sure the French “Deep State” really really wants Macron to win, and they really don’t want Fillon to.  Sadly this means that I’m fairly sure Fillon is now toast. Macron and his supporters are going to keep the drip drip drip of possible scandal going until either Fillon quits the campaign, is officially charged, or the opinion polls report that hsi reputation is in tatters.

This is not, in fact, good for France. Macron may win, the French establishment has put any number of roadblocks in the path of Mme Le Pen and I can’t see that stopping. However if I can see the fake outsider nature of Macron, I have no doubt many people in France, including Mme Le Pen and her team can too. I don’t know how many Fillon supporters are going to feel betrayed by him vs feeling that he was framed, but I can well imagine that the latter group may decide that a Madame President Le Pen will be more likely to shake up the French state/elites than Macron. They are probably right there, but her professed policies for France sound Peronist if not outright fascist and the 20th century history of Argentina is not one that inspires confidence in the concepts of Peronism.

So does that mean I think Macron will be better? Not necessarily. Macron’s ideas, it seems to me, are just a gloss on the long standing French ideas of dirigism and hence unlikely to result in the reforms that the country so desperately needs. A Macron presidency is likely to be similar to Sarkozy’s, promising much but generally failing to deliver anything meaningful.

More to the point will Le Pen beat Macron or not? At the moment I think she will, despite opinion polls suggesting otherwise. The polls all put Le Pen on a maximum of ~40% support but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of “shy FN” voters, just like there were shy Tump voters and shy Brexiteers. Moreover Macron’s anti-union stance, while nothing like as strong as Fillon’s, is likely to cause defections to the FN from the far left who let’s face it share all sorts of policy preferences with the FN.