Thousands of “gilets jaunes”, or yellow vest protesters, stormed the capital at the weekend to rage against Emmanuel Macron and his treatment of them with aloof, technocratic disdain.
And yet leftists in Britain and the US have been largely silent about this people’s revolt.
The same people who got so excited about the staid, static Occupy movement a few years ago seem struck dumb by the sight of tens of thousands of French people taking to the barricades against Macronism.
It isn’t hard to see why.
It’s because this revolt is as much against their political orthodoxies as it is against Macron’s out-of-touch and monarchical style.
Most strikingly, this is a rebellion against the onerous consequences of climate-change policy, against the politics of environmentalism and its tendency to punish the little people for daring to live relatively modern, fossil-fuelled lives.
This is new. This is unprecedented.
We are witnessing perhaps the first mass uprising against eco-elitism, which is part of the broader populist revolt that has been sweeping Europe for a few years now.
The “gilets jaunes”, named after the hi-vis vests they wear, have been in rebellion against Macron’s fuel tax hikes.
As part of his and the EU’s commitment to cutting carbon emissions, Macron wanted to punish the drivers of diesel vehicles in particular, by raising the tax by 7.6 cents (6.7p) for every litre of diesel fuel.
This would have badly hit the pockets of those in rural France, who cannot just hop on buses as deluded Macronists living in one of the fancy arrondissements of Paris have suggested they should.
These people on the periphery of French society — truck drivers, provincial plumbers, builders, deliverymen, teachers, parents — have rocked up to the centre of French society in their tens of thousands three times in recent weeks, their message the same every time: “Enough is enough. Stop making our lives harder.”
The backlash has led to a humiliating tax U-turn by Macron after a painful lesson.
It is a perfect snapshot of the most important divide in 21st-century Europe: That between a blinkered elite and ordinary people who’ve had as much bossing about tax rises, paternalism and disdain as they can take.
Macron decreed the little people of the nation must pay a kind of penance for the eco-crime of driving diesel- fuelled cars, like a modern-day Marie Antoinette deciding what is good for the plebs.
This leaderless, diverse revolt, packed with all sorts of people, including both leftists and right-wingers, is important for many reasons.
It beautifully, fatally shatters the delusional faith certain Europhiles and piners for the maintenance of the status quo have placed in Macron since his election in May 2017.
Remember how they said he would hold back the populist tsunami and save the EU from the pesky public’s anger?
Now we know that, far from defeating the populist thirst for change, Macron has inflamed it.
This revolt is also important because it suggests no modern orthodoxy is safe from the populist fightback. Not even the environmentalist one.
For years we have lived in a climate of “You can’t say that”. You can’t criticise mass immigration — that’s xenophobia. You can’t oppose the EU — that’s Europhobia. You can’t raise concerns about radical Islam — that’s Islamophobia.
You can’t agitate against climate-change policy — that’s climate-change denialism.
And anyone who dares to bristle against eco-orthodoxy deserves to be cast out of polite society.
And yet now, in this populist moment, people dare to say these things.
They are standing up to the EU, demanding immigration becomes a democratic concern rather than something worked out for us by bureaucrats in Brussels. And now they are grating against the hitherto unquestionable religious-style diktat that says we must all drive less, shop less and do less in order to “save the planet”.
Of course the gilets jaunes revolt isn’t just about fuel tax.
It expresses a broader sense of public anger with the new political class and their cult of bureaucracy, preference for technocracy over democracy, their distance from the concerns and beliefs of ordinary people.
The revolt speaks to a crisis of legitimacy among the 21st-century political class and a willingness within the public to kick up a fuss about things they might previously have been silent about.
But it is not an accident climate-change policies were, in the French case, the spark.
Environmentalism has always been a central feature of the new elitism, a means through which a self-styled virtuous political class could demonstrate its eco-awareness by shaming and punishing those who drive to work, or work in polluting industries or fail to recycle rubbish.
This is why the kind of people who might normally have got excited about a mass uprising in France are so quiet about the gilets jaunes revolt — because it is a two-fingered salute to them as well.
Many American leftists love the idea of carbon taxes. Corbynistas always drone on about the need for greater eco-responsibility.
Sadiq Khan has introduced a “toxicity charge” for London’s most polluting cars. He must be quaking in his boots as he watches events in France.
Next to the vote for Brexit, the revolt is important — it shows ordinary people have developed a powerful sense of confidence to question everything foisted upon them.
I support these revolting Frenchmen and women.
- Brendan O’Neill is editor of Spiked Online.
Moment 'Yellow Vest' protesters are battered by French police with batons after running into Paris restaurant to escape tear gas
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