Grim picture in French elections

Author: 

Martin Thomas

On the website of the French daily Le Monde, Matthieu Goar writes: “If the MPs [of the main right-wing party, LR, The Republicans], Sarkozy [right-wing president 2007-2012], Juppé [prime minister 1995-7, and candidate to be LR nominee for president] and the others give the impression that they are ‘killing off’ Fillon by replacing him, the risk of some of Fillon’s voters going off to the National Front is not negligible.

“At the Place du Trocadéro [in Paris, where Fillon held a defiant rally] I talked with many people who said that they would vote for [National Front presidential candidate Marine] Le Pen if Fillon is blocked”.

Seven weeks from the presidential election to be held on 23 April, with a second round on 7 May, and followed by legislative assembly elections on 11-18 June, the risk that far-rightist Marine Le Pen will win is not disappearing.

Francois Fillon was voted in as LR nominee by an LR “primary”. He has pitched himself as a French Thatcher, intent on chopping 500,000 public-sector jobs, cutting immigration, revising Schengen free movement rules, lopping off union strength via resort to under-the-gun plebiscites of workforces, etc. Now he faces a financial scandal: LR leaders want him to back down, but so far he refuses. His ratings have slumped from a high of 26% to 17% (polling on 2-4 March).

Marine Le Pen faces a similar scandal, but her voters don’t care. She remains ahead in polls for the first round. On current polls, Le Pen will clearly lose in the second round run-off, where she will probably face Emmanuel Macron.

Macron was the (right-wing) economy minister for a while in the Socialist Party government, and was a Socialist Party member (as a civil service high-flier) in 2006-9, before working as a banker, returning to politics as an adviser to Socialist Party president Francois Hollande, then in 2016 forming his own little political party for his presidential bid. Macron’s poll score is much less stable than Le Pen’s: 76% of her voters say they’re “sure” to back her, and only 39% of his. Sadly, the two candidates proposing a real (revolutionary socialist) alternative, Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière and Philippe Poutou of the NPA, get only 0.5% or 1% in the polls. Poutou may fail to get the 500 signatures of mayors or other elected officials required even to get on the ballot paper. In 2002 similar revolutionary socialist candidates scored 10%.

The Socialist Party has a soft-left candidate, Benoit Hamon. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a slightly-less-soft left former SP minister who quit in 2008 to form an alliance (Front de Gauche) with the Communist Party, and since then has declared the FdG dead and formed another new party of his own, is also standing. The members of the CP (much reduced from its heyday, but still something of a force), voted by a narrow majority in a November 2016 poll to back Mélenchon. Hamon and Mélenchon are both a few per cent behind Fillon in the polls.

Since becoming leader of the Front National in 2011 Marine Le Pen has essayed an operation on it something like Tony Blair’s on the Labour Party in the late 1990s — branding it as “neither left nor right”, as modern-but-bland, etc. —except that Le Pen and FN tout themselves as “patriots” opposing “globalists”, where Blair was an enthusiast for capitalist globalisation. Le Pen has succeeded in widening the FN’s electorate — in the regional elections of 2015, the FN got 43% of manual workers and 35% of under-24s — though the FN still scores lower among women, among those with more formal education, and in big cities.

How far the FN has moved from its street-fighting fascist roots remains a problem for analysis. In any case, an FN victory would mean a vicious offensive against France’s Muslim and immigrant population, and probably a break-up of the European Union. Le Pen has promised a referendum to take France out of the EU and re-erect high borders.