The First Round of the French Presidential Elections Should Teach the UK Left an Important Lesson

After the first round of the French presidential election, which saw no left-wing candidate progress to the next round, Reed James highlights the importance of the British left remaining unified. 

Although the outcome of the first round of the French Presidential elections may look divorced from UK politics, there are important takeaways for the Left. 

In France the results of the first round were about as dreary as expected with the second round being another electoral matchup between Emmanuel Macron, who initially pitched himself as a centrist but has shifted further to the right of the political spectrum over time, and the far-right Marine Le Pen. This makes the second round of the Presidential election a question of how far to the right voters want France to go, rather than anything positive.

However, the second round between Macron and Le Pen almost didn’t happen, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the only left-wing candidate with a chance to make it into the second round, received 22% of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 23.1% in the first round. In 2017, almost the exact result repeated itself, Macron versus Le Pen in the second round because in the first round, Le Pen won 21.30% of the vote compared to Mélenchon’s 19.58%. Mélenchon, in both recent elections and 2017, could have easily made it into the second round with just a few more votes, making the second round a more positive contest about how much to the left France wants to go. 

What has consistently prevented Mélenchon from making it into the second round has been the vote splitting amongst the French left. In the recent first round election, despite Mélenchon being the only left-wing candidate with a chance of making it into the second round, various left-leaning Presidential candidates got substantial percentages of the vote, the Greens received 4.63%, the Socialists, 1.75%, the French Communists, 2.28%, overall the combined left-leaning vote was slightly less than 30% in the first round. If just a fraction of left-leaning voters had pragmatically voted for Mélenchon, then he very easily could have made it into the second round. 

In the UK the left is equally at risk of becoming split in its efforts against the more united Conservatives. The 2021 local elections saw the Green Party swallowing up Labour voters with record results at Labour’s expense and longstanding Labour activists becoming disillusioned with the party, with some even defecting to new left-wing parties like Breakthrough. This sort of continued split amongst the left only has one outcome, the chance for the Conservatives to win again because the left splits whilst the right remains united, and that should not happen.

 The Labour Party right now is not perfect, no party is. However, what the Labour Party is promising now is not only far better than anything the Conservatives will do, but something worth fighting for that will genuinely improve lives. A windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help compensate people during the cost-of-living crisis, an investment plan to put £28 billion into renewable energy to tackle the climate crisis, a 12% tax on big tech and charging VAT on private schools so they pay the taxpayer their fair share. A new deal for working people that gives everyone full worker’s rights like sick pay or parental leave from day one, a minimum wage increase and restoring the £20 that has been cut from Universal Credit

These policies combined and many others by the time of the 2024 election will utterly transform the UK for millions. So now is not the time to repeat the mistakes of the left in France and split. As there are millions of people that simply cannot afford to wait for a perfect Labour government, they need one now, so the UK left needs to unite and vote Labour, not just to keep the Conservatives out but for a transformation offering that would repair the damage of the last decade and positively move the UK forward. The Labour Party might not be everything to all people, but it is far better to move society forward in some of the ways you want, as opposed to none at all.  

Reed James is the former chair of East Midlands Young Fabians and is the current Secretary of Leicester Young Labour. He tweets at @reedjames617.

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