June 9, 2021 - 11:40am

As slaps go, it was a rather feeble one, more of swipe than a slap. The young man who struck President Emmanuel Macron in the Rhône valley yesterday lacked conviction. It was as if he said to himself: “Am I really going to change my life by hitting the President in front of the TV cameras.”

In any event, Damien Tarel, aged 28, will go down in history. The last person to assault a French head of state was Baron Christiani who struck President Emile Loubet on his bowler hat with his cane on 4 June 1899.

Emile Loubet spent another seven years as President. What will be Macron’s fate? Will yesterday’s slap in Tain-l’Hermitage, previously known for its wonderful red wine, come to be seen as prophetic? Will this act of lèse majesté go down as a humiliation which pre-figured Macron’s defeat in the presidential election next year?

I doubt it. Macron may or may not be defeated but yesterday’s event is playing, so far, in the President’s favour. After the assault, he refused to be bundled away and continued shaking hands with a group of people who had come (mostly) to cheer him.

He made several other walkabouts — the French call them bains de foule or “baths in the crowd” — later in the day. The visit to Tain, near Valence, was part of a Tour de France by Macron intended to show that he is, after all, a man of the people, not a Jupiter (his own ill-chosen word).

By undertaking such a tour, Macron was almost inviting an incident of this kind. Opposition politicians, from far right to far left, have been building up a hysterical portrait of a wickedly arrogant President, who has been more destructive than any previous French leader.

This is nonsense. Macron has many failings and has had many failures (and some successes) but his real crime is to have reached the Elysée Palace from outside the traditional left-right structures.

The two young men arrested after yesterday’s attack seem to have been a microcosm of Macronphobia. They are variously described as royalists and anarchists. Damien T. muttered an old royalist battle-cry before raising his arm but he is also believed to have been present as a Gilets Jaunes and far-left protest demo earlier in the day.

Will yesterday’s attack persuade the opposition to calm the inflammatory rhetoric? Not for long, I suspect — but for now it hasn’t done the president any harm.

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.