Keeping his word

Emmanuel Macron addresses supporters, after winning the French election, at the Louvre on May 7, 2017 in ParisImage copyright
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Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche has unveiled a gender-balanced list of candidates

At this early stage, he couldn’t not be as good as his word. So he has been.

In the list of 428 parliamentary candidates presented for Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche (REM), literally 50% – 214 exactly – are women.

And 52% – just over the promised half – are from so-called “civil society”, in other words are in ordinary jobs and have never held an elected mandate.

Among these are a few eye-catching names, like the brilliantly foppish mathematician C├ędric Villani, and France’s best-known woman bullfighter, Marie Sara.

(However, not Mourad Boudjellal, the entrepreneur who runs Toulon rugby club, who has said the presence of his name on the list was a mistake – an early sign of amateurishness for the new party?)

So the Macron commitment to regenerate French politics with a big dose of new blood in parliament is properly under way. If the party does well in the elections on 11 and 18 June, the benches of the National Assembly will have a different and younger aspect.

Nonetheless a couple of provisos are allowable.

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Many of the 428 candidates are relatively unknown, first-timers to politics

First of all, it has been pointed out (by the centre-right Republicans, natch) that of the 24 sitting MPs who have been allowed to run under the new president’s colours – all are from the Socialist Party. None are from the Republicans.

That does not bode well for one of Mr Macron’s other selection criteria: political balance.

Richard Ferrand, the party’s secretary-general, may protest that among the couple of hundred “non-civil society” nominees there are plenty of municipal, departmental and regional councillors from the centre-right.

He cannot mask the fact that, on the national level, the REM has been far more successful at attracting left-wing politicians than right-wingers. In all it is reported that 80 or 90 sitting Socialists – clearly fearing a wipe-out at the election – asked to be on Mr Macron’s team.

Only the lucky ones – those who gave signs early enough of leaning his way – were accepted.

Among the Republicans, by contrast, there is still something resembling party cohesion. Only one MP, the former primary candidate Bruno Le Maire, has said unequivocally that he could join a Macron government.

But here is the other proviso about the REM list.

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Not among them, however, is Mourad Boudjellal (second right with Mr Macron earlier this year), whose name was mistakenly put on the list

It has escaped no-one’s attention that far from giving a complete list of 577 names (or 576 if you exclude the Essonne constituency where the party will not field a runner against former PM Manuel Valls), there are nearly 150 names still missing.

Why this lack of clarity? Why the delay? Why is Mr Macron’s party unable to do what it said it would do and give the country the full roster of names?

The answer is that it is engaged in some very old-style political calculation.

Emmanuel Macron knows that his weak point is his connection with the outgoing regime. He is a socialist at heart, as he has often said, and made his name serving a Socialist president.

If his party goes into the election fielding too many ex-Socialist MPs, it will be a sitting target for a vengeful Republican Party, eager to get its own majority and force the new president into a “cohabitation” (where the government is of a different colour from the president).

So the party wants a few more days to tempt over Republican Party defectors. Only in the middle of next week will it draw up its definitive list of 576.

In between will have come President Macron’s inauguration, and on Monday the nomination of his prime minister. Watch for this moment. If Mr Macron names to head his first government a person with a background on the right, it will be a clear signal to Republican MPs to make the leap.

Whether or not they then come on over is a different question.

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