October 21, 2021 - 7:10am

They are back. A handful of them, at any rate.

Small groups of men and women in yellow high-visibility jackets — “gilets jaunes” — stood beside roundabouts on the edge of a score of French towns last Saturday.

They were protesting against a boom in pump prices, which has reached 1.53 for a litre of diesel, a few centimes higher than the last record set three years ago. 

In the autumn of 2018, the high cost of filling up a car helped cause a nationwide revolt by hundreds of thousands of people who had never previously revolted. The original yellow jacket rebellion — rural and outer-suburban, directionless, leaderless and much divided — faded away in the spring of 2019.

By then the movement had been hijacked by people who live in a permanent state of revolt: urban, anti-capitalist and unconcerned by the price of petrol. They carried on, in diminishing numbers, until the first Covid lockdown in March last year. 

Can the original Gilets Jaunes revolt be reborn, six months before the French presidential election? President Emmanuel Macron plainly fears that they can.

By the end of this week, Macron is expected to announce emergency measures to help people in rural areas and suburbs who are heavily dependent on cars. He has two options.

The finance ministry wants to give a monthly cheque to poorer families who rely on private transport. The problem is that French officialdom does not have a handy list of these people. Drawing one up in a matter of days would be difficult and would risk an explosion of anger from those excluded.

Macron is said to favour a temporary cut in the various taxes which represent 60% of the pump price of petrol and diesel in France. That would look incoherent when France is committed (in theory) to rapid action on climate change.

It might also be costly and pointless. The state would lose 2.5bn for every 5 centimes taken off a litre — and the benefit might become invisible if world crude prices continue to rise.

Still, Macron feels that he has to do something.

An Elabe opinion poll for BFMTV on Tuesday found that the cost of living and purchasing power was the number one issue for nearly one in two French voters — far ahead of security and immigration, the favoured subjects of Macron’s far-Right opponents Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour.  

As a result, Zemmour is doing his best to encourage another Gilets Jaunes rebellion. He said this week that they were “quite right”. Rural and outer-suburban France were the principal victims of “40 years” of misrule by a globalist-liberal-Europe-loving elite.

The problem for Zemmour is that the original Gilets Jaunes have scattered and disbanded (insofar as they had any organisation or unity of purpose in the first place). A year ago, when he was still a journalist, Zemmour wrote in his column in Le Figaro that the yellow-vests had been destroyed by far-Left entryism (true).

He added, because everything for Zemmour is linked to race, that the GJ’s had also been swamped by “racaille” (scum) from the multi-racial inner suburbs. That is utterly false.

So can the Gilets Jaunes’ live again? 

That will depend in large part, not on Zemmour, but on the decisions taken this week by the man that the yellow vests love to hate: Emmanuel Macron.

John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.