14 December 2015

France’s National Front is far from finished


It could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. The rout of the Front National by the combined forces of the Socialist and Conservative parties in the second round of the French regional elections does not spell an end to the hopes of the Far Right. Though the Centre has held, it has diminished and now faces further onslaught. It is like a castle that has withstood a bitter siege, whose exhausted defenders as they look out from the ramparts see fresh enemy forces gathering on the horizon.

So what have we learned?

We have learned (or had confirmed) that the mainstream left and right are prepared to go to almost any lengths to prevent Marine le Pen and her followers from setting foot in the corridors of power.

What this means is that the expressed wishes of nearly one third of French voters are to be discounted on the basis that they are shameful and anti-French. Thus has democracy been turned on its head.

We also learned that the Socialist Party of President François Hollande, which yesterday abandoned the two key regions, north and south, in which Mme Le Pen and her feisty niece Marion Marechal Le Pen were strongest, was apparently unaware of the strength of feeling of French people on the key questions of national security, unemployment and the European Union. Only now, according to Prime Minister Manuel Valls, is it time for an in-depth debate on these issues. It is as if last week, last month and the last five years had not happened.

The Socialists come out of the elections weakened and discredited – able to hold on to power only by default. At the same time, Les Républicains –current nom de guerre of Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right coalition – have come through the elections, winning seven of the new super-regions to the Socialists’ five, chiefly by ratcheting up their own right-wing rhetoric, in effect stealing Le Pen’s clothes while denouncing her for her nakedness.

Most disturbingly, perhaps, we have learned that the French working class and its allies are perfectly capable of moving from the syndicalist Left to the populist Right in one easy move. Just as former Communists in Germany in the 1930s abandoned the far-Left to embrace Fascism, so millions of French workers in 2015 have shown that they would vote for the Devil himself if he promised them safe streets, jobs and a restoration of national sovereignty.

Finally, we have learned that the result of the 2017 presidential elections is already assured. Sarkozy, the failed “king of bling” will be restored to the Elysée after a hard-fought campaign in which Marine Le Pen will push him all the way, with Hollande, or his successor, an irrelevance.

The only way in which the Left could hope to win would be to do what they have so far signally failed to do: defeat the terrorists, repair the economy and sign up to meaningful reform of the EU. Valls – a highly capable and sensible politician – knows what needs to be done, but he is rather like the owner of a new restaurant who devises a mouth-watering menu only to realise that he doesn’t have a chef and has no idea how to put his promised food on the table.

It is an unappetising prospect. The simple fact of the matter is that the French, no matter who they voted for yesterday or last week, want action, not words. Le Pen would certainly have given them that, but at a cost the majority are are not, for the moment, prepared to pay. What they expect now is that the Socialists see out their mandate as best they can, with particular emphasis on the Islamist threat to national security, and that they then leave the stage to those with a plan and a determination to introduce change.

The cruel irony is that the Man With a Plan is Nicolas Sarkozy, who, like Hollande, did little or nothing as President to reform the economy or take on the unions, and who – again like Hollande – became better known for his romantic liaisons than for his mastery of statecraft. If Hollande is Monsieur Baggy Pants, Sarkozy is all mouth and no trousers.  Has he changed? Probably not. Will he take an axe to the economy? Probably not? Will he do anything to improve the lot of France’s restive Muslim minority, whom he once referred to as a rabble (racaille)? It seems unlikely. He knows too well that the French will give up anything for change provided only that everything remains the same.

Meanwhile, waiting impatiently in the wings, issuing her siren call to France to abandon the shibboleths of globalisation and multiculturalism in favour of la Patrie, is Marine Le Pen, looming larger today than at any time in the last 20 years and twice as dangerous. The National Front? They haven’t gone away, you know.

Walter Ellis a writer based in France.