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Emmanuel Macron has been accused of being asleep since his victory in the first round of the presidential election last Sunday night. On Wednesday he sleep walked into a perfect PR trap laid by his vastly more experienced rival Marine Le Pen. And he finally woke up with a jolt.

While Macron was meeting union representatives of workers at the doomed Whirlpool factory Amiens in the Chamber of Commerce, Le Pen saw an opportunity she could not refuse.

She sped up to the northern city and went straight to the picket line to have selfies taken with workers whose jobs are threatened by outsourcing to Poland and, as the French press reported, plenty of her own party’s supporters who were also there.

“Everyone knows what side Emmanuel Macron is on — he is on the side of the corporations,” Le Pen said.

“I am on the workers’ side, here in the car park, not in restaurants in Amiens.”

The blatant but clever publicity stunt was slammed by Macron but it wrong footed him and forced him into action.

He turned up at the same factory car park where Le Pen had been greeted with applause only to be met by a flurry of heckles and jeers and chants of “Marine President”, albeit from National Front supporters.

But then Macron spent an hour and a half talking to workers. They was plenty of shouting and finger pointing and frustration from the workers, but Macron eventually appeared to defuse their anger, without promising to save the factory like Le Pen had done.

Some thanked him for coming, others shook his hand.

His willingness to spend an hour and a half with workers, all filmed live on his Facebook page, not only salvaged Macron’s pride and spared him from humiliation, but it may just have saved his campaign to be the next president.

“Emmanuel Macron is now fully in the campaign battle and it’s thanks to Marine Le Pen,” said French political analyst Christophe Barbier.

BFM TV’s political analyst Camille Langlade said: “By taking the time he succeeded without a doubt to turn the situation to his advantage.

“For an hour he listened to workers…he wanted to talk with them and to tear apart the propositions of Marine Le Pen,” she added.

L’Express newspaper said Macron’s second round campaign had finally begun.

“It could be that Le Pen’s coup failed in the end by giving Macron the political thick skin he was lacking until now,” Christian Delporte, a historian and political image specialist at Versailles University told Reuters.

Macron’s centrist ally François Bayrou said the whirlwind day at Whirlpool revealed the liberal candidate’s “courage”.

Macron probably won’t have convinced any of the 295 Whirlpool staff whose jobs are threatened to vote for him in the second round, but he may have gained a little confidence among those on the centre-left who appreciated his willingness to go face to face with workers and those on the right who will be worried by Marine Le Pen’s talk of nationalising factories and closing borders.

Macron took the momentum from the factory car park into his rally in Arras on Wednesday evening, when he gave one of his most aggressive speeches yet and focused his anger on his rival.    Read more