An election campaign with twists and turns aplenty, which gripped the nation. A high turnout from an engaged electorate. And a victory for a new leader offering hope and change to his people.
No, not the rather dreary and predictable General Election campaign we’re suffering in the UK, of course. But the far more interesting French presidential election we’ve just witnessed across the Channel, which culminated in yesterday’s victory for the charismatic centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Even by the standards of these extraordinary political times, the Macron phenomenon is an amazing one. After serving as economy minister in the Socialist government, he resigned the party and set up his own, En Marche, only last year. And in the first election the party has ever fought, it has won the biggest prize in French politics; pushing the establishment Conservative and Socialist parties into third and fifth places respectively.
For those of us on the centre and centre-left in this country, we can only look at the new leader over the water and pine. In an age when nationalism and populism seemed irrevocably on the rise, he faced down these ideas and never once ceded ground. He championed liberalism and Europeanism. He drew the vital distinction between patriotism and nationalism, and defined a France for all its people.
In the past, the Labour Party would be doing the job Macron and En Marche have done in France. But the sad reality is that Labour has ceased to be a useful vehicle for the social and political change it seeks. It has become a hollowed-out husk in much of its heartlands, and captured by hard-left extremists elsewhere. When you witness the shadow chancellor delivering a speech below the flags of Stalin’s Communist Party and Assad’s Ba’ath Party, as we did last week – and it barely ruffles a feather in the party – you should know the game is up and Labour is unsaveable.
So what should happen after the inevitable crushing defeat on 8 June? It won’t be enough simply to force Corbyn from the leadership and replace him with a moderate. He and his like need to be driven from the party entirely. Expelled, expunged and their ideas repudiated. And that simply won’t happen. The membership don’t want it and they won’t accept it. In fact there is every chance they will elect another hard-left leader to replace Corbyn, making even the first steps of that process impossible.
What Macron shows us is the alternative. It remains true that the majority of Labour MPs are moderate, reasonable, practical politicians who share much of the world view of En Marche. After 8 June, they should simply break away and start again, as Macron did. Never before has Britain so needed a strong opposition, and never before has that been so lacking. Not only should they do it for the sake of the causes they care about. Their patriotism should demand it of them.
If 50 per cent of Labour MPs break away, they will become Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, with the status, media attention and public funding that go with that. To those that say the SDP failed so this would fail too – get with the twenty-first century. That was nearly 40 years ago and digital communications have changed everything.
As Macron and countless other political campaigns around the world have shown us, you can recruit, fundraise and organise so much more quickly and effectively these days. You simply don’t need the painful structure of committees that cripple the traditional parties and deter any normal person from getting involved.
There is an alternative to copying the Macron model. We can accept a one party state for the foreseeable future. We can let the Conservatives run Britain for the next decade or so, and lead us headlong into a hard Brexit and Singapore-style economy. But as the last charismatic centrist to govern this country said, Britain deserves better. En Marche!