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What is Macron playing at?

Welcome to Tuesday’s Early Edition from i.

It was already the year of elections, with around half the world’s population – from Argentina to the US to South Korea to the EU – heading to the polls. Rishi Sunak’s snap election added another into the fray, and now one more has joined the busy calendar – France. While a British election was always on the cards for 2024, Emmanuel Macron did not have to call a vote for another three years. His dramatic announcement, made in a televised address from the Élysée Palace, came just hours after his camp lost heavily to the far-right National Rally party in the French EU elections, and after its leader Jordan Bardella, had urged parliamentary elections. In his address, Macron said: “I have heard your message, and I will not let it go without a response”. Just as Sunak’s summer poll was seen as a huge gamble, French media have called the upcoming election Macron’s “poker play”. Valérie Pécresse, a former presidential contender, said it was “like playing Russian roulette with the destiny of the country”. What is at stake, and why has Macron decided to take the risk? We’ll take a look, after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Rishi Sunak is hoping a detailed tax-cutting Conservative manifesto to be unveiled today can help reset his faltering election campaign by turning attention to the “thin gruel” of Labour’s plan. The Prime Minister is set to promise another 2p cut to national insurance (NI), taking the employee rate to 6p at a cost of around £10bn, as part of a multi-billion-pound ambition to scrap the tax completely.

Labour’s flagship policy of adding VAT to private schools fees is supported by more than half the electorate – but not because they believe it will raise money. Party strategists will keep putting the plan at the centre of its general election pitch despite an internal row over how the policy will affect state schools.

Nigel Farage will demand a spot alongside Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer in the television debates if Reform UK leapfrogs the Tories in the general polls, senior party insiders have told i. The BBC dismissed any such demand from Mr Farage and said it had no plans to offer him an appearance alongside the Prime Minister and the Labour leader.

The BBC should take Gary Lineker off air during Euro 2024 if he flouts the broadcaster’s election social media rules, the Conservative deputy chairman has said. The corporation was urged to discipline Lineker after he shared and “liked” a social media post that said only a “f***ed up species” could fail to condemn Israel’s “abhorrent” actions in Gaza.

Dr Michael Mosley’s initial post-mortem has concluded that he died of natural causes, police have revealed. The TV doctor’s body was discovered on Sunday morning in a rocky area near Agia Marina beach resort on the Greek island of Symi.

Passengers flying from one of the UK’s biggest airports could face a summer of chaos because of construction work and confusion over security rules, travel experts have warned. Birmingham Airport has been hit by severe delays getting through security, with long queues snaking outside the terminal building and passengers waiting up to three hours to reach the departures lounge.

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Three questions on the French snap elections:

Why did Macron call the election? The announcement came as far-right parties made significant gains in the European Parliamentary elections. Far-right and hard-right groups appear won almost a quarter of the seats, up from a fifth at the last elections. But the gains were particularly significant for France. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National or RN) took 31.4 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections, more than double Macron’s centrist alliance, which scored just 14.6 per cent. Macron told voters on Sunday: “This is an essential time for clarification. Far-right parties… are progressing everywhere in the continent. It is a situation to which I cannot resign myself.” In the country’s last elections, in 2022, Macron’s centrist coalition lost its parliamentary majority. It has meant he has relied on a controversial constitutional tool known as 49/3 to push through his policies without a vote in the assembly. The presidents advisors have said he feared he could be a lame duck leader for the three years before the next presidential election in 2027. The National Assembly president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, also said the president wanted to show he was responsive. “We are told too often that we do not hear, that we are cut off from the people, and there, the president took a decision following a very clear vote by the French,” he said. The snap election will take place in two rounds on Sunday 30 June and Sunday 7 July, just weeks before the country hosts the Olympic and Paralympic games.

What risk is he taking? The elections do not affect Macron, he will remain president until the next presidential poll in 2027. But these will see a new prime minister elected. If this Macron’s party loses its majority to the RN, he would face naming a possible far-right prime minister, most likely the 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, or possibly Marine Le Pen, although many believe she wants to run for president in 2027. After the announcement, Le Pen said her party was “ready to exercise power, ready to put an end to mass immigration”. If that were to occur it would result in what is called cohabitation, and would mean the government would implement domestic policies that diverge from the president’s plan. That scenario would make it even harder to pass laws and could result in it being ungovernable. Mireille Clapot, a member of the French assembly for President Macron’s Renaissance party said it was unlikely that the RN would get a majority, but added: “Still in this situation it is a very very high risk. Not only for us but it is a risk for democracy in France.” Read more here.
 

How could it benefit him? Most analysts see Macron’s snap election as a way of calling the far-right’s bluff. It will force RN to face the reality of governing, and the French public of deciding if this is really what they want. They’ve [RN] got 88 MPs in the French National Assembly and their tactic has basically been to criticise what he’s done,” Political analyst and a fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre of the European University Institute, Catherine Fieschi, explained to the News Agents podcast. “They’ve essentially been cruising on Macron’s lack of popularity. By doing this Macron has created a situation where they are going to have to be confronted with the reality of power. They’re going to have to prove that they’re a party that is capable of governing. His gamble is that they won’t be.” He’s not the first to take this kind of risk. As Leo Cendrowicz noted: “Macron can look to the example last year of Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, another political gambler who called early elections after his Socialist Party (PSOE) suffered heavy losses across regional and municipal elections – and yet closed the gap and pulled off a narrow victory.” Alberto Alemanno, an EU law professor at HEC Paris Business School, said Macron was following Sanchez’s script. “The president had no choice but to acknowledge the fact that his own party had just witnessed a major loss. He had to seize the momentum to regain control of the story,” he said. Some have even suggested that Macron could be hoping that should National Rally win, governing for the next two and a half years could leave them unpopular. “He could be calling their bluff and saying, ‘It’s all very well being in opposition, but let’s see how you govern the country.’” political scientist Bruno Cautrès said. Read more here.  

Some have called the snap election a ‘poker move’ by French president Macron (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

 Around the world

The UN Security Council has voted in favour of a US-proposed resolution in support of a ceasefire in Gaza. The binding resolution lays out plans for a ceasefire that urges Israel and Hamas “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition.”

The resignation of two relative moderates from Israel’s war cabinet could lead to greater power for far-right elements pushing to expand the war against Hamas in Gaza, according to Israeli current and former officials and political analysts. Former defence minister Benny Gantz stepped down with a series of parting shots at Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of “preventing us from approaching true victory,” urging defence minister Yoav Gallant to follow him, and calling for elections. Fellow war cabinet member, Gadi Eisenkot, also withdrew.

Singapore Airlines has offered compensation to passengers on board a flight that was hit by turbulence so severe that dozens of passengers were injured and one died. In a statement posted to social media, the airline said passengers with minor injuries had been offered $10,000 (£7,800), while those with serious injuries could discuss an offer to meet their specific needs.

Hen and stag night parties are to be barred from Barcelona’s world famous Boqueria market as part of a series of measures to reduce over tourism in the city. From this summer, a team of wardens will patrol the market to stop tourists taking endless selfies in front of the colourful food stalls.

 Watch out for…

 big promises as the Conservatives launch their election manifesto this morning. 

 Thoughts for the day

Boris Johnson’s desperate attention-seeking is not worth your outrage. His attack on ‘Sir Keir Schnorrer’ is just a lame, lazy, hypocritical gag. Ignore it, advises Simon Kelner.

People without childhood friends aren’t to be trusted. If during a 20-ish-year period you don’t make and then retain one single friend, then that is completely on you, writes Rebecca Reid.

My mum was a housewife and loved it – I get why young women want that. The raging popularity of the tradwife trend – the homespun stuff, the dreaminess, the lack of chaos and hustle – makes Esther Walker think we are witnessing a vibe shift

Writer Esther Walker at her home in London

 Culture Break

Rebus star Richard Rankin: ‘Political correctness surrounds the police right now’. The actor on stepping into the role of the dysfunctional detective – and what his own policeman father taught him.

Richard Rankin plays a younger Rebus than in previous versions of the show (Photo: Pip)

 The Big Read

We work in the NHS – this is why it’s broken and how to fix it. In a special series, as the country prepares to vote for a new government, the i speaks to those on the front lines of healthcare, about what needs to change.

Helen Wall, Ray Chapman and Jane Kelly (left to right) (Photo: Supplied)

 Sport

Morgan, Mott and Malan: The six reasons behind England’s white-ball downfall. Staring at an embarrassing early exit at the T20 World Cup, England have never truly recovered from Morgan’s retirement in 2022.

England’s T20 World Cup fate is out of their hands (Photos: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

Elephants call each other by unique names, study suggests. Researchers found elephants have the rare ability among animals to address each other using name-like calls.

Elephants communicate with one another with sounds from trumpeting to low rumbling of their vocal chords, as well as by sight, scent and touch (Photo: George Wittemyer)

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