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France, U.K. Elections Were a Loss for Incumbents, Not a Win For the Left

Newsweek – The international Left rejoiced Sunday evening as exit polling in France’s runoff parliamentary elections suggested much lower than expected gains for the country’s Right-wing populist National Rally Party, which was widely expected to win a large plurality—if not an outright majority—of seats in the National Assembly. Coming just three days after the U.K.’s parliamentary elections, which saw the Conservative Party thoroughly trounced by Labour after 14 years in power, leftist cheerleaders thought they had detected a hopeful pattern of Left defeating Right. Ebullient, they quickly took to social media to argue that after London and Paris, Washington must be next, with defeat looming in November for former president Donald J. Trump.

But this interpretation of the British and French elections is a mirage. While they may be part of the same pattern, the two elections, as well as results in a number of other Western countries, strongly suggest that pattern is anti-incumbency rather than anti-Right.

Take the British case. In their 14 years in power, the Conservative Party presided over taxes spiraling to their highest level relative to GDP in over 70 years, ballooning national debt, record-high inflation, unchecked unemployment, surging illegal immigration, rising crime, a radical and costly environmental program, the barely resisted woke capture of most national institutions, and the evisceration of British military power. Along the way, the party imposed one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdown policies, which its leaders embarrassingly violated in a major national scandal, and delivered a painful and deeply flawed exit from the European Union, which most of the party leadership opposed while the majority of Britons favored of it.

Unsurprisingly, large numbers of British voters rejected the Conservatives, who finished with the smallest percentage of votes and lowest number of parliamentary seats in their 200-year history. Tellingly, their massive losses were helped by the emergence of Reform UK, a populist right-wing alternative that grew out of the Brexit movement and entered the national campaign as a rival party this year. According to one British survey, the 4.1 million ballots that Reform UK received may have cost the Conservatives as many as 173 seats—52 more than they ended up winning. Alongside that divide, Labour, which won nearly two-thirds of all parliamentary seats, campaigned much less on its policies, which are barely distinguishable from those of the Conservatives, than on Obamaesque notions of “hope” and “change” and promises to work harder than the discredited incumbents.

Across the Channel, the big loser in France’s elections was not National Rally, which actually improved its showing since the previous election, but the center-right incumbents of President Emmanuel Macron‘s pro-business and Paris-centered Ensemble coalition, which has been in power for seven years and also mired the country in high debt, high inflation, rising crime, surging illegal immigration, increasing immiseration, and other woes. The coalition lost 86 seats, tumbling from the 245-seat plurality it won in 2022—and the 350-seat majority it enjoyed when Macron was elected in 2017—to second place and a numerical inability to govern.

The Left placed first with 180 seats after uniting just last month into the “New Popular Front” (NPF)—a coalition of over 50 political parties and other organizations. While its “tactical alliance” with Ensemble stopped National Rally from reaching an imposing mandate, the NPF has pledged not to work with Macron in government, and seems unlikely to govern on its own. It has advanced a strongly anti-incumbent platform that specifically calls for the reversal of many of Macron’s economic reforms, including his signature tax cuts and hard-fought increase in the retirement age.

To Macron’s right, National Rally, which also opposes much of Macronism, received more than twice the number of votes it won in 2022, increased its number of seats from 89 to 142, and is now the largest single party in the National Assembly and, by percentage of the popular vote, in the country at large. That’s quite a climb from the two seats it held before 2017, when it was a marginal fringe party with a dark fascist past.

If Britain and France are bringing down incumbents, American leftists should hope the U.S. is not part of the same pattern. President Joe Biden has only been in office for three and half years, but the progressive ideology he represents has held sway over American state and society alike for far longer, and Americans are fed up.

Like his unpopular British and French incumbent counterparts, Biden also has to answer for high inflation, higher taxes, increasing national debt, persistent crime, and significant national and institutional decline. Trump, who believes he was betrayed by metropolitan elites and a disloyal bureaucracy in his presidential term and deliberately campaigns as an outsider, leads Biden in virtually every recent national and swing state poll, while an overwhelming majority of Americans and a rising number of Democrats believe Biden should drop out of the race in favor of an non-incumbent candidate who may have a better chance of winning.

For the moment, however, it looks like Biden will definitely be part of a pattern. But it might not be the one his supporters expect.

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