Eight reasons why Marine Le Pen could still win the French Elections
Convention wisdom suggests both left and right will come together to defeat Marine Le Pen and the National Front in the second and final round of the French presidential election. Here French specialist and head of politics and Kings College London, Professor Jeremy Jennings, outlines the key trends in France today and why they mean the far right could still win. He spoke to Political Tours earlier this year.
Our French Election Tour runs from May 2-8 and includes the FN base in the north of the country, meetings with key experts in Paris, analysis of the terrorist attacks of 2015-16, as well as a visit to a key surburb – essential for understanding recent political events.
The following is the summary of this talk:
8 reasons why the Front National is a contender in the French elections
- The failure to integrate a very substantial Muslim population. ‘La France Soumise’ – a recentbestseller proposes that France has become a subject country. The great and long French tradition of “laicite” is seen as being under attack from a large sub group who are introducing religion into civic life and institutions.
- We should not underestimate the impact of Bataclan, Nice, the murder of a priest in his church in Normandy, these were a fundamental shock to people. Widespread, deep concern about national security.
- Relative economic value – virtually no growth – 10-12% unemployment, 25% amongst youth. France has not been creating jobs for a long time. Youth are a major sub-group among Front National supporters, after white working class.
- French public finances are in a bad way. They consistently fail to meet EU targets to reduce budget deficit. No money to support society; increasing tax burden on middle class. 60% of GDP is derived from taxes.
- Increasing numbers of people questioning whether the institutions and political system of de Gaulle’s 5th Republic are still up to the job. There is now talk of a 6th Republic.
- Virtual collapse and disintegration of the Socialist Party (‘PS – l’effacement’ a headline in Le Monde recently stated). Hollande’s approval bottomed at just 5%, rising slightly now that he has declined to stand. Steel works closed within 6 months of him promising to keep it open. State paying to create “fake” jobs to fix unemployment figures – with a rising cost to the taxpayer. Widespread disillusionment with PS. The collapse of the PS – in reality a Social Democratic Party – leads to a resurgence of the extreme left. The Trotskyst candidate is polling a creditable 15% (correctly heard?)
- The rise of the FN. Extreme right wing parties have always been a feature of French politics e.g. Poujadism. FN been going approx 25 yrs but has always been defeated in the first election. This time it is likely to get through. Marine le Pen is v smart and sophisticated, articulate – can outsmart journalists. She has dropped extremist/nasty stuff and is socially progressive e.g. pro gay marriage. Historically regional movement now increasingly national. She is no longer regarded as a total pariah.
- Antipathy to EU in certain demographics. Le Pen wants restoration of franc
Candidates and outcomes
- Candidates: Fillon : economic liberal. Wanted to cut 500k public sector jobs – no working class votes there then! But now beset by scandal.
- Macron: think Tony Blair. Young photogenic, socially and economically liberal. Come from nowhere. Set up his own party. Filling halls with 9-10!k people – no one else is doing this. Never polling less than 3rd. Classic French liberal intellectual, pro the European project. Is there a natural limit to his support – urban middle class professionals (the equivalent of the UK Remainer profile) – finite numbers available to him? Will both sides come together to support him at the last moment. Not clear.
- Marine le Pen. – as above
- Socialist – yet to declare. Probably not Valls but a hard left candidate (eg Hamon)
- Who will win? Who knows! Not at all clear. Still a long way to go until the Vote.
- Whoever is elected…. is unlikely to have much success with the problems above – security, immigrant communities etc problems all so deeply rooted.
- Ef it were to be le Pen, she’d act against EU – and then that would upset the applecart in Europe. End of the EU as we know it.
Q and A
- Aren’t elections ‘all about the economy, stupid’? No, this time security and social issues are at least as high on the agenda.
- The lack of integration has been around for two decades; terrorism is relatively recent. Some people (not just le Pen) are conflating the two. JJ doesn’t but merely puts them side by side as two separate but interrelated reasons for the rise in support of FN
- Will the young people actually turn out to vote? If they do, they will mainly vote for le Pen.
- The role of education as a barrier, keeping out perceived ‘outsiders’. The UK education system is elitist but the French system sets out to create an elite. Excludes the underclass. An Arabic name on an an application form will almost always prevent the candidate being given an interview
- If there is another Bataclan between now and the May elections le Pen will likely be swept in
- The French think UK are completely stupid to have chosen Brexit – but pleased to think that it will put them and Germany at the centre of Europe
- Misogynism in France, French politics (e.g. Strauss-Khan). The male political class have no motive to change it. It favours the male candidates and works against le Pen