Boris Johnson’s cabinet could learn a lot from Emmanuel Macron’s humility during coronavirus outbreak

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks to British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Neil Ha

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks to British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Neil Hall/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Government ministers have been accused of losing control in the last few weeks. EMILIE ANCELIN says that Boris Johnson and his cabinet would benefit from looking to French president Emmanuel Macron for some tips in how to regain authority.

Three weeks after putting the whole of France into lockdown, Emmanuel Macron gave his third address to the nation, on a Monday evening on prime-time television. Static, calm and serene, hands flat on the desk, eyes to the camera, the French president gives a really powerful speech. His intentions are clear; he wishes to reassure the country by giving a clear and definitive timeline of what to expect in the next weeks as well as justifying his will to extend the lockdown to the 11th May.

In the 30-minute long, well-structured and well-argued speech, Macron paints a new picture of himself as more than just the leader of the nation. Using 'we' instead of 'I', he presented himself as one of millions of French citizens. The key word for this speech is surely 'solidarity', ensuring that 'we are all living through a massive upheaval. We are all vulnerable, but we will preserve our humanity'. Macron has, with this speech, definitely taken the right tone which was one of humility.

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Alternating between positive news and the stark consequences of the virus, Macron appears as more than a simple political leader, he is a war leader, the enemy being the virus. This is why, for the first time in months, the president chose to play the card of modesty as well as having an air of frankness, quite the rarity in politics. He rightly takes personal and collective responsibility for the errors made by the government in their action against the pandemic and admits that his government still has a lot of work to do to flatten the curve and limit the pandemic, despite the unknowns that remain about the virus itself.

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Leadership and personality were at the forefront; making it clear that he is ready to reinvent himself and his politics in order to make the country stronger and more united than ever within the European Union. Emphasising that, there are no contradictions between national sovereignty and European sovereignty, affirming that European cooperation is the best response to this crisis.

Perhaps, most admirable, the president also does not hesitate to apologise for the slow processes and logistics to provide masks, hand gels and ventilators to everyone. He recognises that mistakes have been made and that some decisions should have been taken sooner, apologising for the over 10,000 lives that have been taken by the COVID-19.

Through his latest speech, Emmanuel Macron shows an unusual facet of himself; more social and human, closer to the people; he ensures that there will be a lot of government support for the poorest and people living alone, showing compassion for people rather than just focusing on the economy and its figures.

Yet still pretty unpopular in France, Macron's government certainly appears as one of the most proactive and leading governments in Europe, and his approval ratings appear to be recovering. It is clear that, by adopting a concise strategy, he ensures that people remain safe and do not succumb to panic. As such, the French president gives a lot of hope to every part of the population, including industry and farmers, who he seemed to have forgotten until now, giving a clear deadline to look forward to and therefore help French people to cope with the lockdown.

This draws a huge difference with what is happening in the UK. Indeed, since the beginning of the pandemic, the communication from the UK government has often been considered unclear. The British government has also appeared to struggle to admit that mistakes have been made in implementing actions to minimise the risk of spreading the virus by not only taking a late decision to go into lockdown, but also by failing to provide sufficient protection for healthcare workers, as well as ensuring that enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators are available to the public in response to the pandemic.

Unlike in France, the UK refuses to recognise that the response could have been better to ensure sufficient protection to British people who have had a lengthy wait for the government's apologies. The home secretary, Priti Patel, attempted to deliver this last week, but failed in not only timeliness but in sincerity.

After several tumultuous weeks where ministers appear to be losing control, the UK government would benefit from looking at Macron's leading nature, in both his speeches and actions. Echoing his humility and providing clear communication amidst all of the disarray is the way to ensure we stay inside to help tackle this dreadful virus.

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