What is it about England’s right-wing journalism and France? The obsessive hate against France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, in papers like the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Spectator is without precedent.
As news arrived of the death of 27 refugees drowned in the Straits of Dover, the Daily Mail summed up the style and language of the Francophobe press. It blasted the “Tantrum diplomacy of the Tinpot Napoleon: Brexit has long been driving Emmanuel Macron to ever greater heights of irrationality – and now it’s costing lives.”
The paper added that turning the Channel “into a graveyard is precisely the consequence of the grotesque policies put in place by Macron himself.” By any definition this is extraordinary language. Saying the President of France is responsible personally for the deaths in the Channel was a new low in the non-stop Brexit press attacks on Macron.
I worked as a minister dealing with France in the Foreign Office under Tony Blair. There were plenty of disagreements – sometimes sharply felt over mad cow disease, reforming the Common Agriculture Policy, EU Treaties, or the Iraq intervention – but never did Blair or any of his predecessors openly insult Jacques Chirac with the kind of sneers and denigration that is now the small change of any article on Macron in the Brexit press.
A few weeks earlier the London press poured bile and scorn on Macron as he refused to roll over and accept Australia’s duplicitous axing of a contract to build submarines, following months of non-stop Macron bashing in the London media.
The Daily Telegraph responded with a front page lead story saying Macron would give up France’s seat as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to offer it to the EU.
The story was complete fantasy. The EU is not a state and therefore cannot be a full UN member. The French government was forced to issue an official denial as they seem to think the Telegraph is still a respected reliable truthful paper in England.
Alas when it comes to France, and especially Macron, this is no longer the case.
Even pro-American commentators agree that Macron was treated appallingly by the rightist pro-Brexit Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, who did not have the courtesy to tell Macron at the G7 summit Australia was planning to ditch the contract and who has refused to call or meet with Macron.
As Peter Hartcher, the respected International and Political editor of the Melbourne Age wrote: “This was not only boofheaded diplomacy. It leaves Australia with no supply contract for any new submarines from anywhere whatsoever, and actually endangers critical capabilities of Australia’s existing six submarines.”
Both New Zealand and Indonesia protested at Morrison’s decision to nuclearize their region. Until now there was a common Australian-New Zealand consensus to keep nuclear warships and submarines out of their waters.
London and Paris are actually closer to Beijing than Canberra and the idea this political stunt by Morrison, possibly egged on by Boris Johnson as part of his obsession with rejecting all cooperation with Europe, puts any pressure on the autocratic Chinese leader, Xi, is laughable.
The problem is not that Australia is tearing up a €50 bn, decades long contract – that happens in arms deals – but the sheer duplicity involved.
For the London media this Australia-France submarine fiasco has allowed a fresh outburst of Francophobia and to write a new chapter in their hate of the French president.
Paris was once the favourite city of the London foreign correspondent. The 1000 year love-hate relationship between the English and the French has provided great copy.
But with the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017 something changed.
The Tory Brexit press, mainly offshore owned, was still bathing in the glory of its victory in the referendum the previous year. Now, five years later, Brexit is, to put it mildly, not a happy project and ministers have given up proclaiming it is good for Britain.
Instead of bigging up Brexit, the anti-European scribes based in London or filing to the Macronphobe press from France produce weekly denunciations of the French president.
It is not as if Macron is universally admired across Europe. And he is the object of serious hate in France, far more noxious than the denunciations of Boris Johnson by Remainers in Britain or the insults hurled by New Labourites against Jeremy Corbyn.
To be sure, Macron has little regard for the traditions of the deeply corrupt French centre right. Nor does he have much time for a socialist party which was given a golden opportunity with François Hollande winning the Elysée and the National Assembly in 2012 but then threw it away as party grandees tore into each other and made sensible reformist left government completely impossible.
Instead, Macron is much more like an updated de Gaulle who also detested the pettiness and corrupt vanities of the post-1945 4th Republic circus of parties which led to French national humiliation in Vietnam, Suez and Algeria.
By Tory standards Macron ought to be their hero. He defeated and has kept at bay the left. He is Europe’s strongest leader on insisting on a common struggle against the ideology of Islamism both within France and by sending troops to stop Islamists from winning control of sub-Saharan states.
French start-ups and new technology firms have blossomed under Macron. He pays lip service to trade unions but not much more than Boris Johnson. The CAC 40 – France’s FTSE 100 – has grown under Macron and CAC 40 CEOs earn an average of 5 million euros a year.
Yet to read a small helping of Spectator recent headlines this year show an anti-Macron pathology.
“Is Macron Losing Control of France?” March 22nd
“Is Macron the New Trump?” March 30th
“Macron Eyes up a new career” February 10th
“Macron Blames the British Variant for the French Lockdown” March 31
“Macron is playing politics in the Channel” June 1st.
“Emmanuel Macron’s dangerous infantilisation of the French” July 25th
“Macron’s Covid Passports are causing intergenerational warfare” August 9th
In the autumn the Spectator discovered a new champion to support in its hate campaign against President Macron. This is Eric Zemmour, a far-right polemicist who has denounced French Muslims of whom there are 6 million in France, the EU, and bien sur les Anglo-Saxons. He calls for the return of an imagined Christian white France of harmony and Sunday church-going whose footballers never kneel in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter anti-racist movement.
Week after week the Spectator promoted Zemmour with one mid-October issue having two articles praising a man whom the Chief Rabbi in France says “is indisputably an anti-semite, certainly a racist.”
It is mark of how far the Brexit press’s hatred of Macron has reduced their main weekly paper to promote an anti-semite who defended Petain’s war-time collaboration with the Nazis in sending French Jews to be exterminated.
Everyone in Britain hunts for Macron’s minor mistakes in order to try and depict him as an enemy of the UK. He made an unguarded remark about the Astra Zeneca vaccine after the German health ministry reported problems with some side-effects. America’s Food and Safety Administration, which sets the gold standard for drug authorisation, still refuses to let US citizens to be jabbed with AZ.
Macron apologised for his slip and his prime minister, Jean Castex, was filmed being jabbed with AZ to prove it was safe.
Yet months later, Brits were still holding up Macron’s AZ gaffe as proof that he was anti-British. He is not. But he is pro-EU and with the retirement of Angela Merkel, he will, if re-elected, be the preeminent EU leader.
Already the new German coalition government programme refers positively to the need for Europe to develop “its strategic sovereignty”. This is pure Macron language and anathema to the British editors who claimed that the Brexit plebiscite would lead to the break-up of Europe as other countries would follow the example set by English nationalists.
All recent polls show Macron is leading by a departmental kilometre the race for the presidency next April. He tops Marine Le Pen much more strongly than he did at the same stage in the run-up to the 2017 election, with other right- or left-wing candidates tailing 10 points behind.
In a recent Figaro-AFP poll Macron beats Marine Le Pen 55-45 in the second round of the presidential contest.
Earlier in the year Boris Johnson and the Francophobe press tried to portray Macron and France as trailing far behind the UK in vaccinating their population, accompanied by Johnson’s endless vax boasting about the “Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine.”
No-one in Germany or Belgium or Turkey refers to the “world-beating Pfizer vaccine, developed by two Turkish immigrants, produced in Belgium” but Johnson thought wrapping the Union Jack around the AZ vaccine would boost his standing.
But as in La Fontaine’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, the early winter Johnson boasting and the denigration of Macron’s insistence to work in a collegial manner with other EU member states – an offer made to but rejected by London – now looks hollow as Macron has been vaccinating the same number, or even more, than the UK has managed.
The figures change from month to month, sometimes from week to week but while Britain had a short lead to begin with, countries like France have caught up but without the horrendous death toll linked to Boris Johnson’s refusal to mandate mask wearing until the Omicron variant arrived. And he still rejects the French Covid Pass which has been copied elsewhere in Europe and helped to control infection.
It is almost as if when the French put up an umbrella in a rain storm the enthusiasts for the Johnson-Brexit Press axis prefer to get soaking wet rather than do anything the same as the frightful French.
But the reason that the Telegraph-Sun-Spectator and other Brexit fixated journalism in London needs to keep running down Macron and dreaming of a new president next April is that President Macron has emerged as the strongest proponent of greater European partnership and joint-working in recent years.
The departing conservative Angela Merkel defends the EU status quo but Macron keeps nudging forward the idea of a stronger, more coherent Europe able to be less dependent on China or America for its manufacturing, especially modern hi-tech or artificial intelligence based production, as well as greater defence autonomy and trying to speak as one on foreign policy.
Macron has also spear-headed the insistence that Brexit means Brexit and that Britain cannot continue to have ‘le beurre et l’argent du beurre’ – the French version of Johnson’s having your cake and eating it.
In a high profile visit to Dublin at the end of August, Macron pledged full French and EU support for the Good Friday Agreement and opposition to the efforts by Johnson and his Brexit bag-carrier Lord Frost who want to rip up the international Withdrawal Treaty between the UK and EU to appease the fading anti-EU and anti-Dublin unionist politicians in Belfast.
A win for Macron next April is a win for the EU and a defeat for the hopes in London that bit by bit the Brexit virus would infect more of Europe’s political class.
As with Brexit, we have a journalism of lies and fake news about the French president. He is far from perfect and one day party politics will return to France and as in Britain maybe the mainstream democratic left can again learn how to win power.
The Spectator is controlled by Andrew Neil who spends a great deal of time in his villa in southern France. It is not clear if Mr Neil has learnt any French. But as an outstanding BBC journalist with a ruthless focus on getting our politicians to tell the truth he really might look at his weekly paper and ask why it is so full of fake news and hate propaganda about our closest neighbour.