In the rare photos that have done the rounds of social media, you can make out the MPs from the ruling La République en Marche (LREM) party sitting at tables in groups of five or six (see below). Some have a white headscarf wrapped around their head, others have a sky-blue one around their neck , while yet others are studying post-it notes whose contents remain a mystery.
Looking at these images it is hard to understand just what could be occupying the attention of these MPs from President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party as they gathered at a seminar on Monday September 18th at Les Docks de Paris centre at Aubervilliers in the north-east suburbs of Paris ahead of the next Parliamentary session on September 25th. And listening to some of them talking off the record about their first day some of those taking part were not exactly sure what they were doing there either.
A few years ago a major firm in the Paris region gathered its executives together to explain to them that they should be dolphins “capable of leaping over the waves which confront them”. There were no marine mammals on show at the LREM away day, but there was role playing and some practical tasks, involving for example the aforementioned scarves. Their colours apparently corresponded to four categories: the MP, the constituency, the government and the LREM group itself. The MP's task was to talk to the constituency and find out what its expectations were and how they could help it. A random recreation was then enacted in front of the MPs who were there; in theory that should have been 313 but only 200 actually attended, according to sources. It seems by Tuesday many had chosen to abandon the second day.
All the familiar Macron mantras were in evidence, with participants at pains to point to the “goodwill” that pervaded the seminar. Of the other exercises that took place on the Monday afternoon, one involved people forming a circle according to age, while another entailed defining an MP's “ecosystem”. There was also mention of the Parliamentary group's first Parliamentary session in July which was widely seen as a flop. The MPs, many of them newcomers to daily politics, were judged to have been poorly prepared, insufficiently political and not on top of their brief. As a result they were regularly overshadowed by MPs from the radical left La France Insoumise ('Unbowed France') and the conservative Les Républicains. This was despite the fact that the LREM MPs had had an initial “team-building” session on June 24th and June 25th in the National Assembly building, the Palais-Bourbon.
That, at least, was the official view. Other MPs to whom Mediapart spoke informally, had a rather different take on their experience of the first day of the seminar. ”It wasn't what I was expecting,” said one of them with a laugh. Another noted with regret: “There was no real debate as to what happened this summer. At one point we were so fed up that we played games among ourselves.”
The second day, Tuesday, was aimed at giving the MPs a chance to get stuck into the detail of the issues that are next on their agenda: the planned anti-terrorism law, the budget legislation and a new measure on financing the country's social security system. They are three onerous laws to start with, but ones which will help set the direction for the new presidency. The Parliamentary group's director of communications Christophe Malbranque, who was appointed at the end of July, and the man who came up with the idea for the seminar, says that in time the MPs should be able to “deliver the global vision of a law and give a general meaning to one-off measures that are sometimes unpopular”.
They are not there yet. For the real problem of these training days lies in the fact that the party has still not got a clear, common, shared ideology. Gilles Le Gendre accepts this. “We agree, there's no body of ideology. But that's the point, now is the time to get our second wind. We're undergoing complete reconstruction, the party too, and we're building it in the same way.” This would involve updating their values, he said. The president of the National Assembly's social affairs committee and LREM MP Brigitte Bourguignon said recently in L'Opinion magazine: “There is still no real political line at the Assembly.”
That is also the case with the party itself, which is still under construction. “For the time being we can continue to live on the basis of the manifesto,” says one LREM official. “At least until 2018. After that we'll certainly be forced to organise consultations.” The LREM MP for Rhône in central eastern France, Bruno Bonnell, told Libération: “We're linked by our loyalty to the President of the Republic and to the manifesto, but we don't have an ideological education which has been forged in branches like in the [Socialist Party] or [Les Républicains (LR)].” Another training session planned for the coming days is evidence of this. It will be run by former budget minister and conservative MP Éric Woerth, president of the Assembly's finance committee – a position always occupied by an opposition MP – who is in charge of training all committee members, more than half of whom come from the LREM.
Will the LREM MPs hold another such seminar? “I don't have a crystal ball but what's certain is that there are 313 of us and we will need times when we all get together and talk,” says spokesman Hervé Berville. The training certainly doesn't stop now. From mid-October the party's MPs will have the right to take part in workshops to learn how to speak in front of TV cameras and get tips on the finer points of public speaking. That three-hour media training will be funded in part by the LREM.
- The French version of this article can be found here.
English version by Michael Streeter