The strange phenomenon of En Marche

This blog post is an extract from Nick Silver and Zoe Hodge’s book A Guide to New Political Movements, now published on Kindle

From the time of its inception to the Presidential election, La République En Marche had existed for just over one year.

Founded by Emmanuel Macron, a strange mix of former investment banker and Socialist government minister, this party-cum-movement presented itself as an alternative to the status-quo politics, amidst a climate of widespread dissatisfaction.

Mirroring Macron’s own paradoxical career, En Marche is neither left nor right in any recognisable way. Nicolas Firzli, director of the World Pensions Forum, characterises Macron as a statist technocrat and ‘liberal moderniser’. But, above all, En Marche received support for the professed principles and values it seemed to embody. Facing the popularity of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, a right-wing nationalist party, En Marche and Macron stood for internationalism, globalisation and the future as opposed to a return to a mythical past.[1]

The first round of the 2017 Presidential election saw Emmanuel Macron come first, with nearly a million more votes than Marine Le Pen, François Fillon of the Republicans and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise. Some have seen this as a relatively weak turnout for Macron, though given En Marche’s young age, he does seem to have convinced a large number of people to drop previous allegiances in a very short time.

In the second round, people united against Le Pen; the final vote share for 66.1 per cent against 33.9 per cent in Macron’s favour.

The following elections to the National Assembly secured a 350-seat majority (out of 577 seats) for En Marche, in alliance with the smaller, more traditional centrist MoDem (remnants of provincialist Catholic centre-right parties once popular in Western France, Alsace and parts of the Pyrenees).

Armed with this new balanced support, Macron had been pushing forward with his widespread, neoliberal-inspired economic reforms for over a year, when, seemingly all of a sudden, he was faced with the Gilets Jaunes’ (“Yellow Vests”) Winter of Discontent marked by unending, violent demonstrations across the country and, in some instances, full-scale urban riots spilling over into the fashionable neighbourhoods of Paris, Bordeaux and Montpelier, strongholds of the Macronist bourgeoisie.[2]

Surprising Change

La République En Marche makes most sense with France’s presidential system in mind. When Emmanuel Macron formally announced the creation of En Marche in his hometown of Amiens in April 2016, he was a recognised figure as former Minister for the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in Francois Hollande’s cabinet. With the latter’s unpopularity, however, Macron judged he could not succeed him whilst in the Parti Socialiste. A new base of support needed to arise – and this was the raison d’etre of En Marche.

Joining was easy and accessible – no fee, quick online sign-up, and the ability to join whilst still being a member of another party.[3] This revolution in French politics was thus in some ways unexpected, stemming from the needs of a candidate in a race which elects only one person.

Yet revolution was indeed what resulted from Macron’s plan for a new political organisation. The En Marche website received 30,000 registrations in the first few weeks.[4] As much as €6.5 million was collected from individual donations during the presidential campaign.[5] After signing up – with a few personal details and agreement to a charter of values – any member could then set-up a local committee. As with volunteer self-registration, these committees have a lot of autonomy to plan their own activities. This fit with the idea of a civic society movement and brought like-minded constituents and neighbours together.

Aside from their own page of the En Marche website to direct new recruits, and a suggestion pack of potential activities or debate topics, the committees were independent.[6] Around 4,000 existed at the time of the National Assembly elections.[7] This was complemented by the make-up of En Marche politicians: half of En Marche ministers are new to politics, whilst 30 per cent of En Marche representatives in the National Assembly had never sought office before and 30 per cent had only been involved in local politics. No previously-existing politicians could create local committees, either – new, fresh blood, excited by Macron, was needed.[8]

In an interview with the author right before the start of the Yellow Vests demonstrations, Firzli, stressed that the true size of La République En Marche’s (LREM) electoral base has been exaggerated. This excited, fresh blood which supports Macron’s political convictions are actually a very small social set positioned precisely at the crossroads where higher education, finance, and high-tech meet.

True fans are still active – recent battles between Macron and provincial politicians over housing tax saw En Marche activists publish lists of around 6,000 mayors who increased the tax contrary to the President’s will.[9] But others have left after being surprised by the sudden enforcement of old- fashioned hierarchical rules by the powers that be at En Marche’s Parisian headquarters.

The long-term outcomes of this post-election change have yet to be seen, but the unfolding Yellow Vests crisis, which some LREM ministers initially seemed content to let fester, combined with reform fatigue among large sections of the lower-middle-class at home and increasing scepticism in Brussels and Berlin regarding Macron’s euphoric Europhilia, may well force the President and his core-followers to curb their reformist zeal: the European parliamentary elections of 24-26 May 2019 may well constitute a life-or-death test for LREM.

Building a Platform

Nevertheless, journalists such as Yann L’Hénoret, who directed a Netflix documentary on Macron, have commented on Macron’s collaborative spirit as everyone could give their own view before he came to a final decision.[10]

In this vein, perhaps, Macron undertook an ambitious, large-scale project previously unheard of in France, during the months before the election. La Grande Marche involved a mass door-knocking operation to gather data on what the French public thought were the next steps needed in their country’s future.

France is privacy-conscious; parties cannot even copy voting records. Liegey Muller Pons (LMP) is a Paris-based firm formed by three former Obama volunteers. What they learnt from the US campaigns was the utility of data – which helped target most-likely voters for contact and advertising.

From online registrations, LMP turned about 5,000 signatories into En Marche volunteers, gave them basic interviewing tips and management skills, and set them to work. An app was developed which made data-collection as easy as possible via the use of keywords. For instance, volunteers could ask the question “what doesn’t work in France?”. If the interviewee commented on their children’s schooling, the keyword “education” would be tapped. Over three months, volunteers spoke to 100,000 people and filled out 25,000 questionnaires.[11]

LREM on the whole, shuns traditional left-right ideological spectrums.[12] Macron has been both banker and socialist, but perhaps “technocrat” suits him best. His reformist agenda seems to speak to this desire to fix problems but avoid utopian five-year plans.[13] If there is one constant in Macron’s vision, it may well be the promises of tech-nation exceptionalism.

Technology heavily intertwined with door-knocking in Macron’s election run. Drawing from the conversations of La Grande Marche, the data analyst firm Proxem determined the most common themes of the responses and how strongly the interviewees felt about each of them. Macron then delivered his diagnostic on the state of the nation in three public meetings, three hours each, live-streamed across the internet.

“Family” and “social protection” were hot-button issues, with “solidarity” and “integrity” as important values.[14] When Macron unveiled his platform, only two months before the first vote, his policies reflected what he had heard from the public.[15] His liberalism, for instance, is tempered with protections like the Posted Workers’ Directive, in which employees of foreign firms must be paid at the same rates as their host communities and thus avoiding undercutting local workers.[16]

Ultimately, though, the 2017 French elections were a battle of values.[17] In Spring 2017, Le Pen was rising in the polls, and the Parti socialiste was badly damaged by distaste for Hollande. It is unsurprising that most left-leaning votes went to Macron as the alternative to destabilisation. But Macron courted the right, too, with his Jeanne d’Arc speech in Rouen, which invoked an appealing narrative of one person’s crusade from the provinces to the Champs-Elysées, in order to save the country.[18]

The one thing everyone agreed on, it seems, was the need for change (80% in a Liberation/ViaVoice poll noted support for “a strong and clear cut from the politics of the last years”).[19] Le Pen and Mélenchon were both politicians who argued for large-scale shake-ups but Macron was the one who argued for change in a “constructive” manner – not to revert to a non-globalised former world, but to change the world as it was.[20]

Modern marketing to suit modern politics

Perhaps to underline that he wanted no part in the staid traditional political fights, Macron avoided reacting to the other candidates. For any negative campaigning deemed necessary, “Team Macron” took over.[21] Instead, Emmanuel Macron chose to speak directly to voters over the internet and far from traditional outlet intermediaries. His campaign announcement took place at a community meeting, not, as usual, a press conference.[22] This was complemented by a personal blog post.[23] French law bans paid advertising, but Facebook pages offered a free way to reach plenty of people. Discussions were live-streamed and long adverts posted.[24]

Technology offered a divide-and-conquer approach to the En Marche campaign. Whilst the younger generations were being reached via social media sites, En Marche used the three minutes of television time given by electoral regulations in the last two weeks to talk to the older public who still watch.[25] Meanwhile, Sunday Lunch Times Initiatives were created to educate younger supporters about political issues in order to talk about them at home. Some even included scripts.[26]

The prongs of attack were endless: for the apolitical, Macron gave interviews to gossip magazines and local newspapers in efforts to reach them.[27]


Despite an unprecedented rise, and a majority in the National Assembly, Macron continues to battle on all fronts, whilst opinion polls indicate an unfavourable turn in public attitude. This is an inevitable readjustment in which the Macronist river is simply returning to its normal, gently flowing level.

The truth is, Macron owes a debt to Le Pen, who remained a pill the majority of French citizens found impossible to swallow. En Marche has a lot of work to do if it wants to thrive in the future and not be a second choice for voters worried their preferred candidates will not stop the far-right. With this in doubt, En Marche’s small successes are the most fruitful to study. Its quick growth rate through the structure of a non-traditional movement, and its intelligent marketing methods, deserve appreciation.

The liberal-idealist civic engagement of La Grande Marche combined with the coldly professional, e-marketing-savvy analysis of data was a tricky balance to maintain over a long period of time. It remains to be seen whether these factors can be replicated in another context, or even in France itself by 2022 … ‘À qui il a été beaucoup donné, il sera beaucoup demandé’ says an ancient Gallic proverb (To whom much is given, much will be demanded).

Having given En Marche “a lot” back in 2017, French voters may be inclined to be far less generous next time around – unless the President can deliver rapidly on the disparate, burgeoning expectations of his rebellious people

[1] A. Nossiter, ‘Why Macron Won’, The New York Times,

[2] These tragic events are still unfolding as we write these lines and it remains to be seen whether Macron’s ‘Grand National Debate’ will quench their fury…

[3] From interviews

[4] C. O’Brien, ‘Meet the presidential candidate’, Venturebeat,

[5] P. Block, ‘The new French revolution’, New Statesman,

[6] From interviews

[7] P. Block, ‘The new French revolution’, New Statesman,

[8] From interviews


[10] P. Block, ‘The new French revolution’, New Statesman,

[11] C. O’Brien, ‘Meet the presidential candidate’, Venturebeat,

[12] From interviews

[13] E. Halls, ‘Emmanuel Macron says France needs a King’, GQ,

[14] C. O’Brien, ‘Meet the presidential candidate’, Venturebeat,

[15] From interviews

[16] From interviews p.9

[17] A. Nossiter, ‘Why Macron Won’, The New York Times,

[18] From interviews p.16

[19] From interviews

[20] From interviews

[21] From interviews

[22] From interviews

[23] C. O’Brien, ‘Meet the presidential candidate’, Venturebeat,

[24] From interviews

[25] From interviews

[26] From interviews

[27] From interviews

Read about more of the new political movements emerging in Nick Silver and Zoe Hodge’s book

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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