Over the last few weeks the French far-right has been shaken by a family feud that has exposed factional divisions between supporters of Front National (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter and current party leader Marine Le Pen. The row first started in April and since then Jean-Marie Le Pen has been expelled from the party. If that was that the far-right would have been consolidated under Marine Le Pen’s leadership thus making them a political force to be reckoned with in the 2017 Presidential Election; the political opportunity for the Left has arisen over the weekend as Jean-Marie Le Pen, following his expulsion, has launched a new party called ‘Blue-White-Red Rally’ (BWRR), which it must be said sounds better in French.
The formation of the party in Marseille was a deliberate act by Le Pen as it successfully overshadowed his daughter’s FN rally in the same city. If Jean-Marie Le Pen’s supporters remain loyal the French far-right would be split going into the regional elections later this year and the electoral success of the BWRR would only spur the party on to put a candidate forward for the Presidency thus preventing Marie Le Pen from getting into the second round of voting. This divide on the Right is a chance for the Left to position the Front de Gauche as the third party in French politics or to at least make the choice for President in the second round between the Socialist Party and Les Républicains.
Opinion polling from Ifop on 4th September has thrown up a potentially dangerous situation: a second round vote between Nicolas Sarkozy of the centre-right Les Républicains and Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National. Unfortunately the consensus in the Socialist Party is that becoming more social-democratic would make the party more electable to centrists that could vote for Les Républicains; as was seen in 1990s Britain this strategy can be successful however the difference in electoral system makes this possibility less clear-cut as the second round vote could well put what people see as shill of the Establishment against a radical outsider in the form of the FN.
The Front National has adopted a policy that many people who originally joined the FN would oppose. Jean-Marie Le Pen is a notorious anti-Semite and has been fined for making provocative statements that were interpreted as Holocaust denial; Marine Le Pen on the other hand has attempted to combat the party’s association with anti-Semitism by asserting that “Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism”. Although opposing anti-Semitism and supporting Israel is not the same thing the two issues are often conflated; Marine Le Pen has changed the outspoken prejudice of the party from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia which has now unfortunately become more socially acceptable. By opposing Islam in this way, Marine Le Pen has alienated anti-Semites from her party who could very well seek refuge in the BWRR; ironically because Marine Le Pen has endeavoured to make the FN more socially acceptable by changing the prejudice espoused by its members, the original members of the FN will flock to Jean-Marie Le Pen in this perceived ‘softening’ of rhetoric towards Jews.
Where the Front de Gauche come in, politically speaking, is that they should work to cut into the FN’s anti-establishment protest vote by their most popular left-wing policies such as greater taxes and regulations on the financial industry, taxing financial transactions that don’t involve the French public to invest in public services and raising the minimum wage (SMIC) to €1,700 per month. By framing the debate around taxing these international companies to help the French people, potential voters of the Front National may be swayed by the left-wing populism of the Front de Gauche.
Marine Le Pen has changed the focus on the FN’s economic policy toward protectionism in an attempt to take votes from the Left, however her father’s brand of neo-liberal capitalism was what the party was built upon; the rift between Marine and her father also risks alienating extreme neo-liberals- seeking market deregulation and privatization of public services- and forcing them to join the BWRR competing against her for the presidency. Although this is more of a pitch by Marine Le Pen to win voters from traditionally left-wing parts of France, many other those who agree with the FN’s new economic direction are vocal opponents of her party’s links to Vladimir Putin and their anti-immigration rhetoric.
The opportunity for left-wing voices to increase their influence in Europe is coming in the next few years and by increasing the voting base for the Front de Gauche whilst simultaneously knee-capping the Front National. By focussing on the Front National’s support the Front de Gauche would be established as the third biggest party in France which would increase the Left’s success in Presidential, Legislative and Departmental elections as well as boosting the media coverage of anti-capitalist ideas.
In the short-term the loss of support for the Front National would most likely result in Les Républicains to win the 2017 Presidential election however this will be the fault of the Socialist Party, and, from an anti-fascist perspective, the Front de Gauche preventing Marine Le Pen from entering the second round of voting would be a great service for France. The Socialist Party continues to drift to the right in order to capture voters who are considering voting for Les Républicains so it will be essential for French democracy that a genuine left-wing party exists and the growth of the Front de Gauche into an established third party will pull in those sceptical of the current neo-liberal consensus who would have flirted with the Front National as well as those voters who believe the Socialists have ideologically abandoned them.
Widening the voting base is essential for the growth of any political party; if the disunity on the Far-Right prevents the growth of the Front National, the Front de Gauche must encourage other left-wing parties to join the coalition in addition to monopolising the ground vacated by Hollande’s party by encouraging support from trade unions historically linked to the Socialists.