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How nice to feel good about a British election result. The last two were, needless to say, complete disasters, ça va de soi. I didn’t follow this one too closely until the final week of the campaign, as it seemed clear that Theresa May and the Tories were headed toward a landslide victory. And then there was the opposition. I have not been a fan of Jeremy Corbyn, to put it mildly, mainly for his foreign policy (notably on the Middle East and NATO), ambiguity on Brexit during the referendum campaign, support for activating Article 50, and his general 1970s gauchisme d’une autre époque. He’s much more Jean-Luc Mélenchon than Bernie Sanders. As for his economic policies, though, while some of the proposals may not be realistic, I have not, on the whole, had a problem with the overall thrust—and the Labour Party’s manifesto, reflecting the attitude of the majority of Labour MPs, was far closer to the center than Corbyn’s own views. As for the Liberal Democrats, they were pretty much out of the picture since the 2015 collapse and with party leader Tim Farron an evangelical Christian flake, or so a Lib Dem member friend informed me recently.

So had I been a Brit, I wouldn’t have had anyone to vote for. Until the past week, that is. When Roger Cohen, of all people, makes “[the] case for Jeremy Corbyn,” I read with interest and ponder the argument. And then there was something I read today, about the three big issues that motivated the droves of younger voters who went to the polls to cast their ballots for Labour: the freedom to live and work in Europe, an end to austerity, and much lower tuition fees (now £9000 a year at most universities and slated to rise further under the Tories). I entirely sympathize. And as May and the Tories so richly deserved to be punished and repudiated—for Brexit, austerity, and quite simply everything—I would have, had I been a Brit, finally set aside my distaste of Corbyn and voted Labour.

Emile Chabal, Chancellor’s Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, expressed the following thoughts, which I like, on Facebook today

1) Goodness, isn’t democratic politics fun?

2) I was pleasantly wrong about England, especially. Young people carried the Labour Party much further than I thought they could. And those elderly provincials were much less emphatic about Theresa than anyone expected (Canterbury! Warwick and Leamington! Peterborough!)

3) Oh my god, what an own goal for the Maybot! Egg. On. Your. Face.

4) Let’s not get carried away: this was a huge Labour success, but Labour did not win. Big question now is whether Labour can go further than this under current leadership. There are question marks about this, although not nearly as many as there were yesterday. Still, Labour’s gains prove that a positive manifesto can really gain traction.

5) Scotland was doing its own thing – it’s increasingly in a political universe of its own.

6) Whatever else this election shows, it does not say much about Brexit: neither major party made Brexit a priority and neither put forward credible negotiating strategies or plans. If I were a Labour strategist, I’d actually be quite pleased that a weakened Theresa May will have to go into the fire and suffer the consequences. Labour can simply point fingers and laugh, without having to take responsibility.

7) We ignore Northern Ireland at our peril. That applies to the odious DUP’s involvement in the impending government and Brexit.

8) Good riddance UKIP. You never mattered, you certainly don’t now.

9) Another election is very likely. And it will almost certainly return *another* surprise.

Writer-journalist James Meek had this comment on the LRB blog

Corbyn’s extraordinary achievement on 8 June is a joy to savour for many reasons: Britain turns out to be a braver, more tolerant and more hopeful place than it seemed a few days ago; the malign power of the right-wing tabloids is weaker than it seemed; austerity is over and grammar schools are off the agenda.

Corbyn’s achievement was indeed extraordinary, as Labour’s popular vote percentage (40.1) was its third highest since 1970—and the increase in its vote from that of the previous election was the sharpest since 1945. No one foresaw that. But then, the Conservative Party’s 42.3% of the vote was its best since 1983. And the Tories will continue to govern, and with the support of the très droitier DUP—founded by Ian Paisley—which bears a distinct resemblance to the Republican Party across the pond. Donc rien n’est joué.

The bottom line is, of  course, Brexit—an issue that was, incredibly enough, absent from the election campaign (as was the case in 2015). I care about the NHS, university tuition, and all, but, as a non-Brit, Brexit overrides everything. I have been asserting since the referendum that Brexit will ultimately not happen: a “hard” Brexit being so utterly inimical to the interests of the UK, with so much to lose and such enormous consequences; and a “soft” Brexit (e.g. Norwegian model) making no sense, as the UK, in exchange for remaining in the single market, will necessarily have to accept free movement of EU citizens and rulings of the European Court of Justice, in which case it had might as well remain in the EU. Brexit is quite simply crazy, which will become crystal clear to both government and public opinion as the 2019 date butoir approaches, and with a way being found, namely by holding a second referendum, to stop the damn process and rescind Article 50. That’s my intimate conviction in any case. On the matter, John Springford and Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform—the top think tank on EU matters—have an analysis on “what does the election result mean for Brexit?”

À propos, in case one missed it, see Simon Tilford’s NYT op-ed of May 29th on “why Brexit will make Britain’s mediocre economy worse.”

C’est tout pour le moment.

UPDATE: Journalist-author Rachel Shabi has a nice op-ed in the NYT on “how Jeremy Corbyn proved the haters wrong.” One little quibble, though. She mentions Corbyn’s accepting the “democratic referendum decision.” There is, in fact, nothing particularly democratic about the instrument of the referendum, and certainly not the one on Brexit, which was not binding and should have never been organized in the first place. The politically courageous thing for Corbyn to have done would have been to ignore the referendum outcome and refused to vote for Article 50 in the parliament.

On the instrument of the referendum, Mai’a K. Davis Cros, who teaches political science at Northeastern University, has an excellent op-ed in The Washington Post, “Don’t be fooled by the U.K. election: There’s nothing democratic about Brexit.”

2nd UPDATE: The Scottish Tories, who won 12 seats from the SNP, plan to break away from the Conservative Party and form their own organization. As the Scots are hostile to a hard Brexit, this will render the latter all the more improbable. Très bien.

3rd UPDATE: Yascha Mounk, writing in his column in Slate, is not optimistic that Jeremy Corbyn will stop a Brexit disaster.

4th UPDATE: George Walden—a former Tory politician and minister (and diplomat and journalist)—has a slash-and-burn broadside in The American Interest, “Mayday in the UK: Yesterday’s election results show that the UK’s political culture is every bit as debased as America’s,” in which he spares Theresa May and her party, plus Jeremy Corbyn, no quarter.

5th UPDATE: Writer-columnist Fintan O’Toole has an excellent commentary on the NYR Daily, “Britain: The end of a fantasy.” The fantasy, of course, is a Brexit in which the UK can, as the clown Boris Johnson famously put it, have its cake and eat it.

6th UPDATE: The Sunday Express reports that the DUP is committed to the principle of free movement of peoples within Europe. So much for a hard Brexit—or a Brexit at all.

7th UPDATE: Peter Mandler, who teaches British history at the University of Cambridge, explains in Dissent “why the Labour Party is not in such a mess after all.”

8th UPDATE: Judy Dempsey, who is a nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and editor in chief of Strategic Europe. has a post on the Carnegie Europe website on “France’s rise and Britain’s demise.”

9th UPDATE: Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches economic policy at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, has a worthwhile post-election post, on the Mainly Macro blog, on “Labour and its left.”

10th UPDATE: Journalist and entrepreneur Hugo Dixon has a post-election comment on his anti-Brexit website, InFacts, “All to fight for on Brexit – including changing our mind.”

Jihadi terrorism, that is. The news was dominated this past week by the terrorist attack in Manchester. There is not a sentiment I can express about it that hasn’t been by everyone else. Targeting youngsters for death and maiming, and at a festive event no less: ça dépasse l’entendement. One has no words. Je ne sais pas qu’est-ce qu’on peut dire de plus.

I did not scour the internet for articles to read on the atrocity, though stumbled across a few, such as this one from The Independent, “Salman Abedi: How Manchester attacker turned from cannabis-smoking dropout to Isis suicide bomber;” Emily Crockett’s comment in Rolling Stone, “Why Manchester bomber targeted girls: As is so often the case, misogyny was woven into this act of violence;” and the report in The Telegraph that the security services ignored reports from Muslims in Salman Abedi’s neighborhood about his erratic, worrisome behavior. And this editorial in The New York Times: “When terrorists target children.”

Some ten days ago I took a group of a dozen journalists from Denmark, who work the immigration/Islamic radicalism/terrorism beat in their country, on a walking tour of “immigration and the changing face of Paris,” which I periodically lead for the Paris office of Context Travel. The leader of the group was a sharp Copenhagen journalist named Jakob Sheikh (he’s Danish-Pakistani), who has reported extensively on the radicalization of young Muslims in Denmark. Two articles of his have been translated into English, which are particularly pertinent at the present moment, “My childhood friend, the ISIS jihadist,” in Mashable (October 15, 2014), and “Meeting the foreign fighters: how does Islamic State recruit thousands of Westerners?,” in the New Statesman (December 1, 2015).

My mother emailed me the other day, asking, in the context of the Manchester atrocity, if I had done a blog post on Udayan Prasad’s 1997 film My Son the Fanatic, the screenplay of which was written by Hanif Kureishi (and inspired by his 1994 short story in The New Yorker of the same title). I have not, in fact, had a post on the film, as it’s been over ten years since I last saw it. The one thing I’ll say about it here—in addition to it being first-rate and with a great performance by lead actor Om Puri—is that it remains, twenty years after its release, one of the best cinematic treatments one will find of the religious radicalization of the youthful offspring of immigrant families from Muslim countries—here, Pakistanis in the British Midlands—and of the perplexity, indeed despair, this provokes in their parents, who seek nothing more than to work, better their families’ lives, and integrate into the receiving society. But their children feel no such need to “integrate”—whatever integration for them is supposed to entail (those who yammer on about this never say)—or to keep their heads low and not make waves, because they were born into that society and are of it. Anyone interested in the subject should see the film (which is available on Netflix). The late, great Roger Ebert’s review of it is here and the trailer is here. See also Hanif Kureishi’s piece in The Spectator last December 10th, “‘My son the fanatic’ revisited: Can one generation’s mistake be corrected by the next?”

À propos, jihadi terrorism has been the subject of some six French films—feature-length, that have opened theatrically or were initially slated to—over the past couple of years, all which I have seen. If there’s a pic on the topic, I’ll see it, no matter how mixed or negative the reviews. And the reviews are often this, as of the six or so films in question, only one gets the thumbs up from me—more or less—and may be recommended—more or less—which is Le Ciel attendra (English title: Heaven Will Wait), by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar (who also directed the 2015 Les Héritiers). Moreover, it is the only one of the six or so that found an audience (330K tix sold, which isn’t too bad for a film of this genre).

The story is of two typically French middle-class teenage girls, Sonia (Noémie Merlant, nominated for the ‘most promising actress’ César for her performance) and Mélanie (Naomi Amarger, who lives in Créteil in the film, près de chez moi), with stable, loving families (Sonia’s father is Algerian but totally laïque) and who are doing well at school, but have become self-radicalized, via the internet, into Islamic State-style jihadi Islam. The film depicts their solitary descente aux enfers into Islamic extremism, the desperation of their parents (Sandrine Bonnaire plays the mother of Sonia) when they realize what is happening, and then the efforts to deradicalize them in therapy sessions led by the anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, who plays herself.

Bouzar has had a high-profile in France over the past decade, for her work on Islam and France—she publishes a book a year—and the tidy subventions she has received from the state for her association—the Centre de Prévention contre les Dérives Sectaires liées à l’Islam—and proactive work on deradicalizing French adolescents who have returned from Syria, been caught trying to get there, or contemplated doing so. For the anecdote, I saw Bouzar speak to a packed auditorium at the École Militaire, which seats 700, in January 2015 and which was streamed live to audiences throughout the world, but with her face blurred on the screen for security reasons (as if it was not already well-known to those who would want to know it). She was quite the star.

As for Bouzar’s arguments on self-radicalization and how to counter it—which I won’t try to summarize here—I found them interesting enough, though she has been severely criticized by academics and others who work in her domain, for, entres autres, her exclusive focus on juridical minors (those under age 18), emphasis on converts to jihadi Islam (including heretofore non-practicing Muslims), and of Facebook and other social media as a vector of radicalization. Bouzar and her work are controversial among practitioners and specialists, who consider her analysis of the wellsprings of jihadi radicalization to be problematic (there is also a personal side, as all of Bouzar’s university degrees were obtained after age 35, so she is not considered by some to be a bona fide member of the academic club, even though Olivier Roy was her doctoral thesis supervisor).

Back to Mention-Schaar’s film, French reviews were good (Paris press) to very good (Allociné spectateurs), though Hollywood critics who saw it at the Locarno film festival—here, here, and here—found it unsubtle, overly didactic, and with unconvincing performances. I won’t quibble with the stateside critics, though their objections didn’t bother me as much. One didactic point in the pic’s favor is that it depicted the reality of jihadi self-radicalization in this web 2.0 era by teenagers who have never set foot in a mosque or had actual face-to-face contact with real live salafis. Trailer is here.

As for the other films:

Made in France, by Nicolas Boukhrief: This was scheduled to open in theaters throughout France on November 18, 2015, and with big eye-catching posters (below) in the metro stations and elsewhere in public in the weeks prior. But then there was the terrorist atrocity of November 13th. Bad timing for the pic, the release of which was naturally postponed to a later date, and with the distributor finally announcing that it would go straight to VOD in January ’16 and not open theatrically at all. So one had to see it chez soi, on the small screen. That’s okay. It’s a by-the-numbers thriller, about a Franco-Algerian journalist named Sam (Malik Zidi) who infiltrates a jihadi cell in the Paris area (an alternative English title of the film is ‘Inside the Cell’) to land the big scoop. But then he gets caught in the engrenage—from which he cannot extricate himself—with the fanaticized cell leader Hassan (Dimitri Storoge), who is determined to commit a terrorist atrocity (spoiler alert: nothing happens), and flanked by the other cell members, all stock characters: Driss (Nassim Si Ahmed), the not-too-bright Maghrebi thug; Sidi (Ahmed Drame), the black, who’s not a bad guy deep down; and Christophe (François Civil), the Français de souche convert who’s settling personal scores. A genre film from A to Z. While entertaining, it’s not on the same pedagogical or sociological level—if one is looking for that—as Philippe Faucon’s 2012 La Désintégration. And the depiction of the cell—comprised of men who have not personally known one another for long—is of a bygone era. Jihadi terrorist cells in Europe nowadays are invariably composed of blood relatives. Hollywood press reviews—here and here—are more positive than for ‘Heaven Will Wait’. Trailer is here and interview with the director in The Guardian is here.

Les Cowboys, by Thomas Bidegain: This one, which opened two weeks after the November 13th atrocity, is less about terrorism than the sudden indoctrination of one’s child into a cult—here, salafi Islam, presumably terrorist-inclined—though which is not actually seen. It’s an odd film and from the opening scene, of a Western-style rodeo and hootenanny, with everyone dressed up like cowboys and cowgirls, contra dancing to country music, eating barbecue and burgers et le total, except that they’re all French people in the Bas-Bugey and in precisely 1994, when the story begins. Alain (François Damiens), Stetson on his head, is dancing with his 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, who then vanishes from sight. Alain and his wife, Nicole (Agathe Dronne), find a letter she has written them, saying that she has moved on to another life and bids them adieu. As they quickly learn, she has absconded with her petit ami, named Ahmed, who had become a salafi. She could be in Algeria—then in throes of the Islamist insurgency, though Ahmed’s Algerian immigrant parents, whom Alain knows, have no idea—the Middle East, Afghanistan, or anywhere. So Alain sets out on the obsessive quest to find his daughter, which takes him to Yemen, Pakistan—where he is helped by an American CIA type (played by John C. Reilly)—and other points on the globe, and that spans 17 years, though with him being killed in an automobile accident along the way, and with the search continued by his son (and Kelly’s younger brother), Kid (Finnegan Oldfield), who finally, maybe locates his sister in 2011.

Reviews of the film were good, including in the US, and with Damiens and director Bidegain receiving César nominations. It certainly held my attention, though I had mixed feelings about it. One understood Alain’s desperation as a father but his persona irritated me throughout, with his incessant blowing his stack and flying off the handle. And the ending left me unsatisfied. Bidegain was, as every review took care to mention, inspired by John Ford’s 1956 Western ‘The Searchers’, with Damiens obviously the John Wayne character and modern-day Muslims the savage Comanches. Having never seen ‘The Searchers’, I got it on Netflix in the US after seeing ‘Les Cowboys’. I was fully aware that Ford’s classic is considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest Westerns ever made—that, e.g., Martin Scorsese considers it one of the greatest films ever, period—but, personally speaking, thought it was crappy 1950s dreck, with wooden acting, a stupid story, and racist in the way it portrayed American Indians. And my mother, who has highbrow film tastes and knows well American cinema of the ’50s—when she was a young adult—entirely agreed with me. And no patient explanation of the film’s qualities will change our minds. Voilà. ‘Les Cowboys’, despite its flaws, is better. Trailer is here.

Taj Mahal, by Nicolas Saada. This one opened three weeks after the November 13th terrorist attacks. It reenacts the November 2008 terrorist operation in Bombay by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba—that lasted three days and killed 164 people—entirely from the perspective of an 18-year-old Franco-British girl named Louise (Stacy Martin, the protag in “Volume 1” of Lars von Trier’s preposterous 2014 ‘Nymphomaniac’), who found herself trapped during the attack in a suite at the Taj Mahal hotel, where she was staying with her parents. One hardly sees the terrorists as they maraud through the luxury hotel on their murderous campaign, the idea presumably being that one is supposed to feel the terror of a potential victim as she hides in the suite, keeping in touch with her parents, who are outside, via mobile phone.

I saw the film at an avant-première—on precisely the seventh anniversary of the first day of the attack—with the director and part of the crew present, plus members of the Association Française des Victimes du Terrorisme, who wholeheartedly endorsed the film. The intentions of the director were laudable and the film does have some merit—it was partly shot on location in Bombay—but unfortunately it’s a turkey. If one is expecting a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat thriller, this film is not it. One is struck by the blasé, low-key attitude of the parents (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing and Gina McKee) as they await the dénouement of the terror attack, and with their daughter at imminent risk of violent death. If it were me and my wife, we would, at minimum, be panic-stricken, if not downright hysterical. The general sentiment of Hollywood press critics is that the film was “inert” and low energy (here, here, here, and here). French reviews were more respectful—possibly because director Saada was a longtime critic at Cahiers du Cinéma, so a member of the club—though Allociné spectateurs were not so indulgent. The pic, needless to say, was a total box office failure. French audiences simply didn’t want to see such a film less than a month after November 13th. Trailer is here.

Salafistes, by François Margolin and Lemine Ould Salem. This is a  71-minute documentary that opened in late January 2016 and to controversy, as the Ministry of Interior sought to prevent its release—arguing that it constituted an “apology for terrorism” (a criminal offense in France)—and with the Ministry of Culture then trying to forbid it for persons aged 18 and under (which, in France, is exceedingly rare). The film, which finally opened in two theaters in Paris, consists of actual footage, by Mauritanian co-director Ould Salem, of Timbuktu under the rule of AQIM; interviews with radical salafi theologians in Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia; and then raw footage of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq carrying out horrendous acts, one of the more shocking being IS fanatics in their pick-ups racing down a desert highway in Iraq, machine-gunning every car they pass, just for the hell of it. In your face. My attitude during the film was who needs this? I am sufficiently well-informed on the subject, the film wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know, and watching psychotic people commit acts of gratuitous sadism and mayhem—not to mention salafi theologians (or “theologians”) blather about their crackpot Weltanschauung—is just not something I enjoy doing. But various persons thought the film worthwhile, e.g. former Le Monde editor-in-chief, Natalie Nougayrède, who wrote in The Guardian that “Salafistes is gruelling viewing – but it can help us understand terror.” And Claude Lanzmann, writing in Le Monde, called the documentary a “véritable chef d’œuvre…d’une grande beauté formelle, rapide, efficace, très intelligent,” and slammed the government for trying to block or restrict its release. And The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer also recommended it. Voilà, comme vous voulez. Trailer is here.

Voyage sans retour, by François Gérard. No one saw this film, or practically. It was slated for release in September 2013 but, in the month prior, was subjected to a campaign of denigration on social media, accusing it of being “Islamophobic,” with a lawsuit filed against it by a dodgy (subsequently disbarred) lawyer named Karim Achoui and actor Samy Naceri, who had a secondary role in the pic, entering into a conflict with the director and also trying to thwart its release. Director Gérard—who is ethnically Algerian (malgré his name)—denied that his film was in any way Islamophobic but the damage was done. It opened in only a couple of independent salles in the Paris area and was gone within two weeks. Vanished into the ether. I saw it via the internet a couple of years later (and needed help from a movie streaming-savvy colleague in finding the pic). In a nutshell, it’s about a Toulousian voyou named Kad (played by Gérard), who runs afoul of a gang of dealers, is obliged to hightail it out of France to England, where he is dragooned into an international terrorist organization, ends up in India and then Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he undergoes terrorist training, and with the idea that he will return to France to commit attentats. But then in Bombay, he runs into a former teacher of his, Nadine (Marie Vincent), who happens to be living there, the two develop sentiments for one another, and with her convincing him of the error of his ways. But he is not out of the woods yet.

The film was said to be loosely inspired by the story of Khaled Kelkal, though I didn’t perceive this at all. The review in Le Monde (one of the few) maintained that while “[f]ragile certes, imparfait assurément, Voyage sans retour est un document choc sur le recrutement des djihadistes dans les banlieues françaises, ce qui le pare d’une dimension testimoniale et pédagogique estimable.” This is too nice. All in all, it is not a good film. The sequence in south Asia is not credible—and particularly the relationship with the former teacher—the acting is mediocre, and one doesn’t give the film a moment’s thought after it’s over. If one wants to see the trailer, voilà. If one wants to actually see the film, good luck.

[update below]

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War—which is coming up in ten days—I am linking to a terrific essay I just read (h/t Michel Persitz), “The Tallest Man in Ramallah,” by the American novelist Michael Chabon, on his roaming the West Bank with the Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour. Numerous articles will be appearing over the coming weeks taking stock of Israel’s fifty-year-long stranglehold over the Palestinian territories—of its insidiousness but also absurdity—but Chabon’s will surely stand out as one of the best. It is posted here on the Literary Hub website and will appear in the book Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, that will be published on May 30th by Harper Collins.

UPDATE: If one missed it, Raja Shehadeh had a must-read op-ed in the NYT (May 20th), “Life behind Israel’s checkpoints.”

The Philippe government

Gérard Collomb, Jean-Yves Le Drian, François Bayrou,
Bruno Le Maire, Laura Flessel, Nicolas Hulot (credit: Forbes)

[update below]

Voilà my à chaud reaction to PM Édouard Philippe’s first government (there will presumably be a second, after the June legislative elections, and assuming Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche wins a majority or substantial plurality, i.e. is not forced into a cohabitation with LR). First, there are a handful of political heavyweights—several well past the legal retirement age—but eleven of the twenty-two ministers and secretaries of state issue from civil society or the fonction publique and have never run for elective office. Which is to say, they are unknown to the public, as well as to me. But then, Macron made it clear through the campaign that this would be the case. Le renouvellement. Second, the economic side of the government tilts markedly to the neoliberal right, which, though probably not a surprise, is too bad. In point of fact, it’s not good at all. Third, the turmoil in LR will no doubt deepen on account of the government’s libéral tilt and Macron’s prises de guerre (see below). If LR does not formally split after the June election there will possibly be two LR-UDI parliamentary groups, with one supporting the government, which will insure an overall majority for PM Philippe even if La République en Marche falls short of this.

The members of the government, in order of protocol:

Gérard Collomb – Ministre d’État, Ministre de l’Intérieur: After forty years in politics, Monsieur Collomb finally lands a ministerial post—and in a ministère régalien, which is both normal given his stature and inevitable in view of his early support of Macron’s candidacy. He’s been a national figure in the PS—on its right flank—since 2001, when he was first elected as (the first-ever Socialist) mayor of Lyon. He’s clearly appreciated there but has been no one’s idea of a possible prime minister. Personally I find him dull. Boring. And I know I’m not alone in my sentiment. It may be the quality of his voice. But he’s solid and certainly has what it takes for this post.

Nicolas Hulot – Ministre d’État, Ministre de la Transition Écologique et Solidaire: He no doubt has the highest name recognition of any member of the government, and has long been one of France’s more popular personalities in the various palmarès. I am certainly among the tiny minority in France who never once watched his television show. He’ll certainly be outspoken on the good environmental cause and push the government in an ecology-friendly (and anti-nuclear) direction. The interesting question will be how long he lasts in the post.

François Bayrou – Ministre d’État, Garde des Sceaux: I wasn’t expecting him to be in the government at all, let alone at the Place Vendôme. He likely insisted on this, so as to personally write the law on the moralization of public life and that will carry his name.

Sylvie Goulard – Ministre des Armées: She was certain to figure in the government but at the Quai d’Orsay or as minister of European affairs, not defense. Curious. I saw her up close for the first time in 2004, at a small round-table discussion around her then new book that argued against admitting Turkey to the European Union. No one in France these days believes such a thing should happen—not for the foreseeable future, at least—but back then there was a vigorous debate on the question, with many—mainly on the left, but also the Chiraquien right—advocating eventual Turkish entry. Goulard’s argument was by far the most thoughtful and compelling of those opposed to Turkey in the EU. She smart and 100% pro-Europe. Her political roots are in MoDem.

Jean-Yves Le Drian – Ministre de l’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères: PS heavyweight, évidemment. I have yet to read the explanations as to why he left defense—his domain—for the Quai d’Orsay. Probably wanted a change of pace (though it will involve even more travel for him).

Richard Ferrand – Ministre de la Cohésion des Territoires: From the PS (second tier, not known outside Brittany until this campaign). He’s been one of Macron’s highest profile spokespersons of late and was obviously going to be in the government. Is well-spoken.

Agnès Buzyn – Ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé: Don’t know her. She’s a prominent personality in the medical profession (as a practitioner and professor).

Françoise Nyssen – Ministre de la Culture: She’s the director of Actes Sud, a high-quality, cutting-edge publishing house based in Arles, which publishes, entre autres, a lot of non-French literature (and is the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s French publisher). Libération has a profile of her here. An interesting choice.

Bruno Le Maire – Ministre de l’Économie: Macron’s big prise de guerre from LR. If Le Maire was going to enter the government, it would have been vastly preferable to give him defense or the Quai d’Orsay. On economics, he is decidedly libéral (in the French sense, not American). Dismaying that he gets Bercy. It looks like Macron really is determined to push through his reform of the Code du Travail 😦 Whatever happened to Anne-Marie Idrac?

Muriel Penicaud – Ministre du Travail: Don’t know her. She comes out of the private sector but also the public, and with experience in ministerial cabinets, including in this domain. She knows the dossier but will she have the political weight to go head-to-head with the syndicats?

Jean-Michel Blanquer – Ministre de l’Education Nationale: Don’t know him. He’s a jurist and with high-level administrative experience in higher education. This is a big ministry and with powerful syndicats. Fera-t-il le poids?

Jacques Mézard – Ministre de l’Agriculture: From the PRG. Is a leading figure in the Senate, but as hardly anyone in France knows what happens in that body, hardly anyone knows about him. As he’s from the Cantal, he is certainly acquainted with the dossier.

Gérald Darmanin – Ministre de l’Action et des Comptes Publics: Another prise de guerre from LR. Rightist, is/was close to (gulp) Sarkozy. Not good.

Frédérique Vidal – Ministre de l’Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche et de l’Innovation: A biochemist, has been president of the university of Nice for the past five years. Can’t say much more about her than that.

Annick Girardin – Ministre des Outre-mer: From the PRG. She’s an élu from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (population 6,000), probably the first ever from there to accede to a ministerial post.

Laura Flessel – Ministre des Sports: Everyone remembers her gold medals (fencing) at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A moment of national pride. She hails from Guadeloupe.

Élisabeth Borne – Ministre Déléguée de la Transition Écologique chargée des Transports: A polytechnicienne, was head of the RATP (Paris metro) until today.

Marielle de Sarnez – Ministre Déléguée chargée des Questions Européennes: François Bayrou’s right-hand woman and MoDem nº 2 for the past decade. Logical that she’s in the government.

Christophe Castaner – Porte parole du gouvernement, Secrétaire d’État en charge des Relations avec le Parlement: PS deputy from the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Macron campaign spokesman. This is an important post, so he is clearly both well-spoken and is considered to have good political and people skills.

Marlène Schiappa – Secrétaire d’État chargée de l’Égalité des Femmes et des Hommes: A local PS politico in Le Mans and author of numerous books on questions related to gender, parenting, and children. Seems like a natural for this post.

Sophie Cluzel – Secrétaire d’État chargée des Personnes Handicapées: Founder of several NGOs on handicapped persons, and particularly children.

Mounir Mahjoubi – Secrétaire d’État chargé du Numérique: That’s digital technology. He was the Macron campaign’s whiz-kid IT geek. Is brilliant, so they say. Hails from a working-class family of Moroccan immigrants. Will be running against Jean-Christophe Cambadélis in Paris’s 19th arrondissement next month. One wishes him well.

UPDATE: With the exception of the Bercy appointments (Le Maire, Darmanin), there is little to object to in the composition of the government for anyone who is not a supporter of La France Insoumise (or on the right, of course; though on AWAV we don’t care what they think). Ideologically speaking, the government is 100% Blairist-Clintonian (which may or not be a positive or negative thing, but is what it is). By my count, the partisan breakdown is 5 PS, 3 MoDem, 3 PRG, 2 LR, 9 civil society or fonction publique (and 2 énarques—Le Maire and Goulard—plus PM Philippe and president Macron, of course). The latter 9 are exceptionally qualified for their posts: top specialists in their fields and with high-level administrative experience. The contrast with the current US regime could not be greater. Some tidbits on few of these ministers:

Muriel Penicaud: Martine Aubry—whose ministerial cabinet she was in back in the early ’90s—has had positive things to say about her, as have most of the major unions (including CFDT and FO). That augurs well for the concertation between the government and syndicats over the reform of the Code du Travail.

Marlène Schiappa: She’s been the subject of a mini polemic—initiated by the petit connard Malik Boutih—over her apparent lack of commitment to laïcité, and on account of a tribune—thoughtful, IMO—she authored in Huffpost in July 2014, “Non, cher Manuel Valls, les quartiers populaires ne sont pas antisémites.” Insofar as she needed to clarify her thoughts on the matter—which I don’t think she needed to do—she did so in Elle. Case closed.

Françoise Nyssen: Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused her of being “more or less linked to cults (sectes),” on account of an alternative school she launched in Arles and with an unorthodox pedagogical approach. The refutations of JLM were swift, by, entre autres, blogger Romain Blachier and Juliette Gramaglia of Arrêt sur Image.

Laura Flessel: Arthur Asseraf of All Souls College, Oxford, felt her nomination smacked on tokenism, writing on Facebook:

Laura Flessel, embauchée dans un ministère potiche pour être le visage de la ‘diversité’ dans un gouvernement blanc = très progressiste, vraiment on chamboule les vieilles habitudes.

Ouch!

Plantu_Le Monde_18 mai 2017

Édouard Philippe (credit: lehavre.fr)

[update below] [2nd update below]

So France now has a president of the republic and prime minister who were both unknown to the larger public four years ago. Édouard Philippe’s appointment to Matignon was pretty much expected over the past week, though I saw no mention of him as a possible prime minister before Emmanuel Macron’s victory the Sunday before last. When pundits started to advance Philippe’s name the day after the election, I pronounced him an excellent choice. As one likely knows, he’s 46, is (now was) the deputy-mayor of Le Havre, a member of LR—probably the most centrist one can get in that party—and ally of Alain Juppé, was a card-carrying PS rocardien in his student days (at Sciences Po Paris, naturally), and is, along with Macron, an énarque—and like Macron, finished near the top of his class (with Philippe going to the Conseil d’État, Macron to the Inspection Générale des Finances). A Fifth Republic classic.

I first learned of Philippe’s existence in November 2015, while listening to an extended interview with him on France Inter. I was sufficiently impressed with him that I listened to the end and made sure to note his name (as a smart, moderate politician on the right whom I could eventually vote for if presented with the choice). The interview, which goes for 90 minutes, may be listened to here. The first part is also with philosopher Yves-Charles Zarka—definitely worth the listen—but from the 52nd minute it’s exclusively Philippe.

France Culture also had an extended interview with Philippe, in December 2014, that may be heard here (scroll to video at the end).

See the portraits of Philippe in Mediapart and Challenges. From January 18th to May 3rd, Philippe had a weekly column on the campaign in Libération, archived here.

One learns in Le Monde that Philippe has a “fierce hatred” of Nicolas Sarkozy, so much so that the two men almost came to blows some fifteen years back. Awesome. Monsieur Philippe, you’re my man!

The composition of the government will be announced tomorrow morning. Will be looking forward to that.

UPDATE: Some money quotes from the Mediapart article linked to above

Quand ses collègues se crispent sur les questions identitaires et sociétales, [Philippe] se refuse à sombrer dans la surenchère.

And this

Ainsi fait-il partie des rares députés UMP à s’être abstenus sur la loi sur le mariage pour tous. « Soyons clairs : nous pensons qu’un enfant peut être élevé, et bien élevé, par un couple homosexuel », affirme-t-il en 2013, dans une tribune cosignée avec Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, expliquant son abstention par la crainte d’ouvrir le champ à la PMA et à la GPA.

And this

…son entrée à Matignon sonne bel et bien comme une revanche pour cette droite qui ne s’est jamais reconnue dans le discours identitaire et réactionnaire porté tour à tour par Nicolas Sarkozy et François Fillon. Cette droite qui s’est très tôt désolidarisée de la campagne de ce dernier, organisée entre démagogie et mensonges.

One may also mention that Philippe opposed François Hollande on the déchéance de nationalité.

Conclusion: on issues particularly important to me—my personal litmus tests, in effect—Édouard Philippe passes with flying colors.

2nd UPDATE: During the burkini brouhaha last August, Philippe was taken to task by a Front National municipal counselor in La Havre, who reproached Monsieur le Maire for his tolerant, live and let live attitude on the matter. Philippe indeed criticized other mayors for their refusal to respect the Conseil d’État’s August 26th ruling that invalidated municipal ordinances proscribing the burkini. Très bien, Monsieur le Maire.

[update below]

There have been the expected slew of documentaries and reportages since last Sunday on the new president of the republic, which, taken together, offer a more than positive image of him. The one on TF1 Monday night, “Emmanuel Macron: les coulisses d’une victoire,” is really worth seeing. TF1’s description:

De secrétaire général adjoint à l’Elysée à candidat à la présidence de la République, le novice en politique est passé de l’ombre à la lumière en très peu de temps. Durant 200 jours, nos caméras l’ont suivi dans les coulisses de sa campagne et dans son ascension exceptionnelle. Durant huit mois, nous avons été les seuls à être autorisés à suivre le candidat Emmanuel Macron avec notre caméra dans les coulisses de cette campagne exceptionnelle. De l’annonce de sa candidature jusqu’à son élection le 7 mai, nous vous proposons un documentaire exclusif vous permettant de vivre de l’intérieur la campagne d’Emmanuel Macron à la manière d’un thriller politique.

Seeing Emmanuel Macron behind the scenes, one cannot help but like him. He’s always smiling, in a buoyant, positive mood—avenant is the word in French—and that clearly rubs off on those around him. Contrast this with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with his perpetual tête des mauvais jours, always scowling and trash-talking (and his spokespersons—Alexis Corbière, Éric Coquerel et al—are no different). Thank god that S.O.B. didn’t make the 2nd round.

France 3 also aired a most interesting documentary Monday night, “Ainsi soit Macron.” The description:

La trajectoire fulgurante d’Emmanuel Macron l’a fait passer en trois ans du quasi anonymat à la présidence de la République. Et pourtant, même si les médias l’ont suivi jour après jour durant sa campagne, personne ne le connaît vraiment. Le politique s’est exprimé, progressiste, social et libéral en même temps, mais l’homme reste une énigme. Derrière le story-telling officiel, quelle est la véritable personnalité de celui qui va diriger la France ? Quelles sont ses forces, ses faiblesses ? Grâce à des images inédites et des témoignages exclusifs, dont celui de son épouse Brigitte, ce film raconte les moments charnières de la trajectoire du nouveau Président et révèle les motivations profondes qui l’animent. Enquête sur un météore devenu Président.

And France 2’s Envoyé Spécial on Thursday had the inevitable reportage, “En marche vers l’Elysée.”

Qui pouvait imaginer qu’en créant son mouvement En marche ! en avril 2016, Emmanuel Macron deviendrait président de la République ? Ce pari, longtemps moqué par le sérail politique et médiatique, est l’objet de ce film. Grâce aux interviews exclusives du candidat et à l’accès aux séances de travail dans les coulisses de son QG, ce document raconte la stratégie de campagne mise en place par Emmanuel Macron pour conquérir l’Elysée.

For some reading—not watching—see this interview with Macron on his apprenticeship in philosophy. C’est une tête celui-là.

UPDATE: For more reading on Macron’s “tête,” see the lengthy piece in Mediapart by Joseph Confavreux and Mathieu Magnaudeix, “Dans la tête d’Emmanuel Macron.”

Macron’s victory

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

C’était une belle victoire. And with a wider margin than anyone expected. No poll or anyone I know predicted that Emmanuel Macron would win with 66% of the vote. Fabulous. A salutary slap in the face for Marine Le Pen and her wretched party. I had a number of things to say about the outcome but all sorts of top-notch Anglophone analysts and commentators have beaten me to it since last night, e.g. Arthur Goldhammer, who had a hot take in Foreign Affairs and several posts on his French Politics blog; James Traub, in a good piece in Foreign Policy; University of Cambridge professor Hugo Drochon in The New Statesman; the University of Edinburgh’s Emile Chabal in The Hindu; and the always interesting Zaki Laïdi of Sciences Po in Huffpost. Arthur Asseraf of All Souls College, Oxford, also has a worthwhile commentary on his Facebook page. The University of Houston’s Robert Zaretsky posted an essay yesterday in the Los Angeles Review of Books on what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur—with whom Emmanuel Macron collaborated in his student days—can teach us about the French election. And don’t miss Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle’s à chaud dispatch, in which I am quoted.

Haaretz’s Dov Aflon has a particularly interesting analysis, enumerating—with his own country clearly in mind—the five “lessons Macron can teach politicians everywhere.” One of the lessons: stop talking about terrorism.

In a moment of levity, Art Goldhammer drew a parallel between the French election and Batman and Robin. But the prize for second degree humor goes to New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, who, in a delicious dispatch entitled “Deep in Macron Country,” solemnly submits that “We must now confront an uncomfortable question. Why did so many French people vote for Emmanuel Macron? Was it a lack of economic anxiety, or a lack of racism?” Money quote

Finally, in the bookshop, I do find someone who is angry. “We are tired of our traditional culture being mocked and derided,” says Pierre, angrily setting aside his Proust omnibus. “Does Marine Le Pen not understand that being French is all about being insouciant, not shouting endlessly about how terrible it is when women wear veils? The only article of clothing a Frenchman should be against is the sock with the sandal.” He shudders. “We are not . . . Germans.”

The encounter with the “rare Le Pen voter” is equally priceless.

As for my own take, a few brief comments.

  • Certain pundits have been relativizing Macron’s 66% score by pointing out the abstention rate (25.4%), historically high number of blank and nullified ballots (11.5%), and the IPSOS exit poll revealing that fully 43% of those who voted for Macron did so more to block Marine Le Pen than out of adherence to his program or him personally—the suggestion being that Macron’s victory is thus “fragile” and does not confer upon him a mandate (to use an Americanism). Maybe, maybe not, but so what? One can say the same about Hollande in 2012—for whom many voted simply to eject Sarkozy—and Chirac in 2002, who would have probably lost that election had it not been for the accident of the 21 avril. As for Sarkozy in 2007, he indeed enjoyed a strong base at election time but quickly started to lose it soon after he took office. The fact is, Macron defeated Marine LP in a spectacular landslide. That’s all that matters.
  • On Marine LP and the Front National, various pundits and academic specialists, including Sheri Berman of Barnard College, have been warning that the FN, despite its drubbing yesterday, remains a long-term threat. Radical right-wing populism may be down but it’s not out. I’m not so sure. The FN will certainly be around for a long time to come but, at 10.6 million votes, I really do think it hit the glass ceiling yesterday. There is simply no potential majority for the FN—politically or demographically—in its current form. If the FN formally drops its position on Europe—thus aligning fully with the souverainisme of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Debout la France—the core of its economic program is rendered null and void. The party loses its raison d’être—and a hefty portion of its base in the northeastern part of the country. It would transform into a run-of-the-mill reactionary, Midi-based party speaking for maybe 12% of the electorate max. But if the position on Europe does not change, then the glass ceiling remains and with no possibility of an alliance with any significant force on the right beyond the diminutive DLF. And with no mainstream conservative allies, the FN cannot win a national election.
  • The aforementioned IPSOS exit poll revealed that 61% of voters do not wish for Macron’s En Marche!—soon to be renamed La République en Marche—to win an outright majority in June’s legislative elections. This should not, however, be interpreted as a repudiation of Macron but rather as a desire of voters for an institutional reinforcing of the National Assembly and at the expense of the president of the republic. If En Marche! receives an outright majority, disproportionate power will continue to be concentrated in the hands of the president of the republic. The fact is, increasing numbers of voters are fed up with the Bonapartist character the presidency has taken on with the quinquennat. On this, see the tribune by Patrick Weil in Le Monde last week. If En Marche! falls short of an absolute majority and is therefore obliged to seek circumstantial alliances with other parliamentary groups, that will be good and salutary.
  • Speculation has naturally begun on who Macron will name as his prime minister a week from today. Unlike Hollande in 2012 and Sarkozy in 2007—who were widely expected to make the appointments they ended up making (Jean-Marc Ayrault and François Fillon)—no one has any idea what Macron will do. Certain pundits today did, however, say that the PM will very likely come from the ranks of the right. In terms of electoral calculus, this would seem to make sense, as the LR party is set to gain many more seats than the PS or La France Insoumise. So if a PM from the right can peel off voters from LR-UDI, that would clearly be good for Macron. As for the names advanced, the one heading the pundit list is Édouard Philippe, the juppéiste LR mayor of Le Havre. He would, IMO, be an excellent choice. I first heard Philippe in an extended interview on France Inter or France Culture in 2015 or early ’16 and was highly impressed with him. He’s moderate and sensible; as centrist as one can get in LR. We’ll see next Monday.
  • I am simply amazed at Macron’s triumph, at the feat he’s pulled off: 39-years-old, never before run for office, whom no one had heard of even four years ago, no political party… And a pro-Europe centrist and in a country like France. Hat’s off to him. His stunning rise is akin to Barack Obama’s from 2004 to ’08. Two exceptional personalities in the right place at the right time—but who also benefited from incredible luck, with their most important rivals serendipitously falling by the wayside or immolating themselves in scandal at precisely the right moment.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: John Judis has a comment in TPM on “Macron’s rout of Le Pen show[ing] how Trump is hurting rightwing populists.” Claire Berlinksi, who’s been on a tear lately, writes in NR that “Macron survived Russia’s dirty tricks, but even bigger challenges wait.” And mention must be made of Roger Cohen’s fine, heartfelt NYT column yesterday on “Macron and the revival of Europe.”

2nd UPDATE: Yale University’s excellent political science prof, Stathis Kalyvas, had a piece in The Atlantic last week that does not once mention France but is nonetheless pertinent, “What democracies can learn from Greece’s failed populist experiment.”

3rd UPDATE: The Washington Post’s James McAuley has an excellent analysis on “why the populists didn’t win France’s presidential election.”

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