Marine Le Pen: a Dangerous Candidate

Article comparing Marine Le Pen to her father from Libération.

Article source: “Le péril Marine Le Pen”, Alain Duhamel, Libération (16/12/2010)


Unfortunately, Marine Le Pen is an intelligent and combative woman, extremely skilled on the radio and on television. She believes in herself and in her intuitions, and she carries herself with consumate aplomb. The truth is, she is even more dangerous than her father was. She may not be as learned as Jean-Marie Le Pen, but the way she speaks is more straightforward and direct. She does not have the traditional eloquence of the man who founded the Front National. However, she has his charisma, an allure which allows her to bestride a stage while dumbstruck activists hang on her every word, and to intimidate the majority of her interviewers and detractors. Most of all, she shares his vision of the world and his methods, as formidable as they are cynical.

Much play is made of the differences between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen. This is naïve. Like her father, the daughter belongs to a far-right nationalist party that is furiously eurosceptic – she advocates abandoning the euro and leaving the EU – and overtly populist. Like him, she scores highest among the lower classes (30% of working class voters support her, and more than 20% of people under 25). It may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but of the candidates to the presidential election likely to reach or exceed 10% of the votes, she is by far the one with the most genuinely working class base. In the 21st century, the party of the French proletariat is the Front National.

She even manages to make breakthroughs in the demographic categories where Jean-Marie Le Pen struggled: women and people over 65, for instance. These are the fruits of canny policy adjustments: where social mores are concerned, she is of her time; and as for politics, she has so far avoided lapsing into the anti-Semitism that literally obsesses her father. Yet she is no less xenophobic than he is, as reflected in her pointed comments about the “occupation” of France by Muslims.

So the polls are treating her well right now: most of them credit her with 12-13% of voting intentions,* which is higher than her father in 2007 and in any case a high figure with 16 months to go before the first round of the presidential election. Jean-Marie Le Pen came close, reached or exceeded 15% on three occasions (1988, 1995 and 2002). The possibility cannot be dismissed that Marine Le Pen will do the same in April 2012. Admittedly she is in no more of a position to win the second round than her father was in the past. More than 70% of French people would never consider voting for her. Nonetheless, she may well get third place, in fact this is the most likely outcome, and her qualification to the final runoff cannot be ruled out, all the more so because she will do anything to achieve it.

She knows perfectly well how to play on the fears, resentments and prejudices of the French. Where insecurity and immigration are concerned, she will always go further than the others. As for economic and social matters, she has a unique way of harnessing the anger and resentment engendered by the recession. This is in fact the most useful springboard to her ambitions: Jean-Marie Le Pen's first breakthrough dates back to 1983, the same year in which, after a defeat of the right, the left had to admit it had no fresh solutions to the recession. Marine Le Pen's dialectic continuously relies on that double failure: neither the free-market liberals nor the socialists have really managed to get France out of the rut it has been stuck in ever since the first oil crisis of 1973. There have been periods of remission (the most spectacular being the one that occurred during the first three years of Lionel Jospin’s term as Prime Minister), but there has never been a lasting and effective remedy. Marine Le Pen is incapable of producing a real one, but she is quite capable of making people believe in her smoke and mirrors, especially those who cannot find other reasons for hope.

This, in short, is the responsibility of all her opponents: those who protest most strongly should avoid sowing the seeds of demagogic arguments that Marine Le Pen could in turn reap. And the traditional parties of government should each show themselves capable, for once, of offering three or four new, credible and clearly differentiated ideas. This is not asking the impossible, but for now it is not happening.

* 17% in January 2012, translator’s note.

Translation: Samuel Florin and Antoine Houzé
Editing: Sam Trainor

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