Just a year and a half after winning an unprecedented landslide victory the French President and his En Marche! “centrist” party have triggered a huge crisis with their policies of punishing workers and the poor, and pushing hard-right neoliberalism.
One of their first moves on assuming power was to lavish a huge tax cut on the wealthiest 1%, and ever since it’s been one regressive and unpopular policy after another: Attacks on pensioners’ incomes, anti-worker legislation, a move to flog off the French rail network to Macron’s speculator mates, extremely unpopular education reforms, and the final straw was a series of fuel tax hikes designed to load the economic cost of combating climate change onto ordinary people, especially those who live in remote rural areas and rely on their cars for survival.
The result has been the rise of organic and leaderless gilets jaunes (yellow vests) mass demonstration all across France.
The mainstream media have obviously focused on examples of violence and vandalism in Paris in order to discredit the movement as much as possible, but the reality is that the vast majority of gilets jaunes protests are peaceful marches and roadblocks outside of Paris, which the overwhelming majority of French people support.
Within 18 months of Macron coming to power and imposing neoliberal policies and enforcing an unjustifiable upwards redistribution of wealth, the French public have had enough and they’re fighting back.
Now just consider how different things are in Britain. It’s over 8 years since the Lib-Dems enabled the Tories back into power (103 months). We’ve had ruinous austerity dogma, a massive unprecedented upwards redistribution of wealth, massive public service cuts, a ruinous “lost decade” of zero wage growth, draconian social security cuts, countless hard-right privatisation disasters (including the mass giveaway of state schools to unaccountable private profiteers), and shocking rises in child poverty, in-work poverty, and homelessness.
Not only has a gilets jaunes protest failed to materialise, but the British public have actually twice reelected the Tories who have been brutalising us like this!
The only hint of protest was the spectacular act of self-harm in allowing the very same hard-right Tories who trashed our standards of living (Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel …) to convince us that immigrants and the EU were to blame for the horrific consequences of their own damned austerity policies and then voting for Brexit!
And when an opposition leader comes along to actually oppose the devastating hard-right fanaticism of the Tories (as opposed to pathetically imitating it like his predecessor) the political establishment, mainstream media hacks, and the “I’m alright Jack” chattering classes spew unprecedented amounts of hatred at him!*
Even now, after eight years of austerity dogma, wage repression, public service cuts, ruinous privatisations, and malicious attacks on the social security safety net, and two and a half years of stewing in their own damned Brexit mess, they’re soaring high in the polls (between the high-30s and low-40s).
To really put this contrast between the Brits and the French into context consider the changes in our standards of living over the last decade.
While Brits have experienced an outrageous 0.5% per year collapse in real wage growth, the French have experienced annual real wage growth of 0.7%.
For the last decade French workers have experienced growing real terms wages (at just about the average rate for Europe), while the British have been slumped at the bottom of the table with other European stragglers like Greece, Italy, and Spain.
But who are the ones engaging in a mass popular revolt against neoliberalism and the greed of the mega-rich?
So what is it about the Brits that makes them such willing doormats?
What makes them so comfortable with the erosion of their wages and living standards that they actually vote in favour of the culprits rather than fighting back?
I’m not actually sure I can answer the question.
Yes, it surely has something to do with Britain having the most right-wing media environment in Europe which repeatedly gives free passes to outrageous examples of Tory malice and incompetence, whilst holding opposition figures to way higher standards.
Yes, it probably has something to do with traditional British attitudes like “stiff upper lip” and “make do and mend”.
And yes, the sickening deference to establishment figures with plummy accents that’s still rife in Britain is surely a factor in the almost total impunity for the Tory toffs who have spent most of the last decade ideologically vandalising our country and vindictively abusing our most vulnerable citizens.
But are these factors enough to explain why the French stand up for themselves and the Brits just sit there and take dogs’ abuse from millionaire Tory elitists for years, and then actually vote the callous abusive bastards back into power?
What do you think?
How do you explain it?