When in 1789 Louis XVI, King of France, was obliged to revive the old consultative body of France, the Etats Generaux, which had been in abeyance since 1614, the representatives of the three orders which were held to compose society – clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie – arrived at Versailles with their ‘cahiers de doleances´, which contained the views of those who elected them on how the country should be governed.
The current ‘monarch’ of France, the Eclipse of the Sun King Emmanuel Macron, alarmed by the possibility of his party losing heavily in the forthcoming elections to the parliament of the European Union, has in his turn decided to consult the nation, but, warned by the example of Louis XVI, has decided to do it his way…by having maires and ‘appropriate bodies’ hold meetings in which the populace can express their views and their wishes. They can even write them in books kept open in public buildings for that purpose.
What they can’t do is pop up to Paris to tell him in person.
He doesn’t like that.
Last week the people who are trying to tell him something broke into the building housing his official spokesman – the person trying to tell them something they are fed up with hearing.
He legged it before they could deliver their message.
Macron does not fancy being defenestrated from the windows of the Elysee Palace….and, unlike poor Louis, he doesn’t have the Swiss Guard to protect him. The poor bugger doesn’t even have his security guard extraordinaire behind him any more.
Monsieur Benalla would have come in useful now, with his experience of beating up protesters while dressed as a policeman but, alas, these days he is confined to confidential missions to African dictators bearing not one but two diplomatic passports…passports he said that he left in his desk when he resigned his post at the Elysee.
So Macron has to rely on the real police….where, once again, he has made a faux pas. To encourage the men on the ground to maintain the energy with which they employ tear gas, batons and something called flash ball which is capable of inflciting severe injury he has given them a pay rise.
Unfortunately he forgot the maxim of the French public service…if the man at the bottom of the heap gets a rise, his superiors get one too, to preserve the necessary distance between them.
So the Police Commissaires, Divisionnaires and other panjamdrums did not get a rise and they are not happy bunnies.
Already they have to try to maintain the morale of their forces in the suburbs of the major cities which are effectively no go areas for them. Where a gang can surround a police car and hold the doors firmly shut as they try to burn alive the three occupants, shouting ‘we want roast chicken’ the while.
There might be a knee jerk reaction from central and local government, but the no go areas remain no go for all that and the police are hung out to dry by local and national politicians if they attempt to maintain order.
But Macron’s government does not have to worry about the yobs from the suburbs or the people upon whom they prey…its members live elsewhere, well protected.
It is worrying instead about the rise of a popular movement, the ‘gilets jaunes’, named after the high vis yellow jacket one is obliged to carry in the car in France which those in the movement have adopted.
It is composed of people who work, pay their taxes and find that there is not sufficient money to go round to provide them with a decent standard of living.
Starting out as a protest against the rise in fuel tax it has become a movement demanding that Macron resign and his policies which favour the rich be overturned. Every weekend there are protest marches in Paris and the big cities….out in the sticks they blockade motorway toll booths and roundabouts.
Inevitably violent incidents have occurred…cars have been set alight, shops looted… in the wake of the marches but the police do not seem to be unduly worried by this. They are intent on ensuring that the marchers do not reach the Elysee and these wreckers make it easy for the government to accuse the demonstrators of violence.
Macron is gambling all on being able to beat the protesters into submission. The media report government spokesmen labelling them as fascists, communists, delinquents….people who wish to overthrow the state…
The police attack with – so far- impunity.
But the Commissaires, Divisionaires and associated panjandrums must be aware of something which seems to have eluded Macron.
People, generally, deplore the lawlessness which has overtaken their society.
They contrast the lack of effort to master the problem with the resources employed to silence decent people with genuine grievances.
They begin to view the police as being more focused on collecting motoring fines than on the protection of law abiding citizens.
Accordingly, they withdraw their consent from the government…just as have those who have had to suffer the lawlessness of the suburbs.
They no longer see the police as the guarantors of order…but as a government militia.
And once you see the government not as the embodiment of the people but as its overlord then revolt becomes acceptable whereas before an attack on the institutions of the republic would have been unthinkable.
Henry of Navarre’s great finance minister, Sully, noted that the great rebellions were not motivated by the wish to overthrow the government but by the impression that one had suffered long enough and it is evident that a tranche of the French population feels just that while a further tranche sympathises with them.
Already Macron’s proposed national debate is in chaos. The head of the body charged with organising it has withdrawn from the task after criticism of her 14,700 euro per month pay cheque. Not that she is resigning, of course….just refraining from workng on the project.
If you wanted a better example of one rule for the elite and another for the rest you could not have wished for better.
No one seems to know what will be done with the results….Macron gives no promises, but one suspects they will simply be trawled for spin material, while enabling the government to condemn the protesters for continuing to protest while the process is underway.
In the meantime a Monsieur Dettinger, a former professional boxer, has been arrested for laying into riot police in Paris. He gave himself up, admitted that he should not have done it, but said that after eight weekends of demonstrating where he and his wife had been teargassed each time he had just had enough of police brutality.
A fund was set up to assist with his legal fees which drove the Justice Minister to demand that the company running the crowdfunding site give up the names of all those who contributed, on the grounds that they were accomplices in his alleged crime.
How you can be an accomplice after the alleged crime has been committed is beyond me, but don’t let mere legal principles rein in a Justice Minister.
But will we have 1789 all over again? The storming of the Bastille? The heads on pikes?
I doubt it. The Paris of that period housed people of all conditions…the Paris of today has driven any but the comfortably off to the surrounding dormitory towns and you have to be made of stern stuff to take the RER into Paris in order to demonstrate.
The gang bosses of the lawless suburbs, though capable of extreme violence, are taking no part in this. Their livelihood comes from benefits, drug dealing and theft….undisturbed by a handcuffed police force. They have no interest in disturbing the status quo.
Macron’s head is safe…though we should always remember Sellar and Yeatman’s observation that uneasy lies the head which wears a throne….as far as Paris is concerned.
Ironic that the man who proclaims that the French expect something for nothing should be saved from the shipwreck of his project by the very forces which reflect just that philosophy.
But in the provinces it may be a different story….