The last few months have been punctuated with a meteoric rise in populist sentiment around the world. People in developed nations are becoming disillusioned with the neoliberal consensus of the last 40 years and are looking for an outlet. Although Brexit is more complicated than ‘bad people voted en masse’, which is often the narrative in the liberal elements of the mainstream press, Trump’s election was unmistakably a victory for extremists. The focus of many around the world is on 2017’s elections in Europe to see if this rise of the Far-Right can be stopped. I believe that France is the front line.
There are three major elections happening in Europe this year: the French presidential election; the German federal election; and the Dutch general election. Far-Right candidates are polling higher than usual and as such we need to galvanise forces opposed to this new development. I have already explained why I do not believe Geert Wilders shall be the next Dutch PM, but I was quick to emphasise that nothing should be taken for granted and the Left needs to organise to make this a reality. Similarly, the structure of the German political system and the optics of German politics, makes the election of the AfD in a majority almost impossible. This leaves the threat of the Front National (FN) in France the only question mark, but defeat for the FN would galvanise activists in the Netherlands and Germany to battle against far-right parties.
The French Left needs to sort itself out and put a real alternative to the people in order to undercut the potential success of the FN. The FN are most popular in the rural areas of France that feel left behind by the pace of globalisation and do not feel that the government in Paris represents their interests. The job of the Socialist Party and the Front de Gauche is to go to these communities are put a positive case for decentralisation, community ownership, and immigration reform. The third of these is most important to people flirting with the FN, and so the Left needs an answer.
The Left needs to put forward policies that will allow migrants to integrate without causing friction in local communities. For instance, state funding for compulsory French lessons would prevent communities from becoming dislocated and would help the migrants integrate seamlessly.
Furthermore, addressing the structural problems of the French economy- such as investment in public works and devolving state-owned assets to communities- would blunt perceptions of migrants ‘stealing jobs’. Redesigning how the French economy worked would ease community tensions and encourage workers to view migrants as their comrades, not their competitors.
Finally, decoupling people’s perceptions of migrants, especially those from the Middle East, from terrorism. France has suffered a number of terrorist attacks in the last few years and anxiety about security has driven people into the arms of the FN. The Left needs to say to people that French foreign policy is not deterring terrorists and as such change is needed. By working diplomatically to change the dynamics of the Middle East, ISIS and other jihadist groups would be undermined and French foreign policy shouldn’t be compromised by immoral alliances with countries that sponsor terrorism like Saudi Arabia.
In terms of the Presidency, I have come to a conclusion that many on the Left will not like. We need to have a unity candidate that will prevent Le Pen from getting into the second round of the vote. If the Socialist Party, the Front de Gauche, and the remaining left-of-centre parties can pool their resources and undermine the progress of the FN through a commonly shared socialist programme, I believe that the FN could be stopped in their tracks.
I am not an expert on French politics, and given the Socialist Party primary has already started I may be too late, but if a candidate on the Left of the Socialist Party attempted to unite left-of-centre groups under one presidential candidacy, it would be a straight fight between the Left and Les Republicains. I am aware that this is a long shot as Emmanuel Macron is currently polling at around 20% by himself, and I’m not going to endorse a liberal anytime soon, but if the second round of voting is Fillon vs. Le Pen, I don’t know how many left-wingers will turn up to vote.
If the Left can organise and promote a message that speaks to people’s concerns and provides them with hope for the future, Le Pen will not get into the second round. At the moment this looks unlikely, but grassroots organising will mobilise working people to reject the outright racism of the FN. Controlling the narrative will be key in this upcoming election and the best way to undermine Le Pen is with a positive socialist message. Many people already have question marks about the FN because of Le Pen’s father, and so the Left needs to prevent these people from staying home on election day. If those who don’t intend to vote came out to support the Left, Le Pen and the FN wouldn’t have a hope in hell. But, this can only happen if the Left puts forward a genuine alternative to the status quo and talks about issues that people are worried about.