Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The New Face of Fascism?

by George Hope (featured in the Spring 2012 print edition of Portsmouth Point)

“Patriotism is loving your country; nationalism is hating others.” - General de Gaulle 

The Front National (or Front National pour Unite Francaise) is a political party in France, founded in 1972 by Jean- Marie Le Pen. Le Pen, a politician of the extreme right, was succeeded as leader by his daughter, Marine Le Pen in January 2011. How did the Front National start? It was the invention of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who wanted to unite all traditions and opinions of the hard right. It is worth noting that there has always been a conservative party in France, but the Front National is not the same, it has a more extreme agenda. The first manifestations came from the Third Republic. After having lost Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, revenge had become an important factor. Similar to Nazism, certain people in society are deemed scape-goats, particularly Jews.

It goes without saying that in previous elections, the number of votes for Le Pen or his daughter has increased. In the Presidential Election of 1995, 15% of votes were for the Front National (more than 4.5 million people). However, the biggest success came in 2002, when the party received 4,804,713 votes (almost 17%). In France the system used for presidential elections is different to the UK. It is known as second ballot. The electorate votes for who it wants to be president. The two candidates who receive the most votes enter the second stage. And there is another vote. The candidate who wins the most votes wins. In the first stage, 19.88% voted for Jacques Chirac (representing the Ressemblement pour la Republique), 16.86% for Jean-Marie Le Pen and 16.18% for Lionel Jospin (socialist candidate). It is interesting that after the first stage, Chirac refused to debate on television with Le Pen. It is quite rare for the second stage to be contested between two right-wing candidates - and the result? Chirac won easily. Today, the Front National is led by the daughter of Jean-Marie, Marine Le Pen. In March 2011, The Guardian revealed that according to a survey by Le Parisien, Marine Le Pen is more popular than Nicolas Sarkozy. But why is it that the Front National is perhaps more popular now than ever before?

The article said that if we were to organise an election now, Marine Le Pen would receive around 23% in the first round, defeating Sarkozy’s 21%. Marine Le Pen’s attitude is much less extreme than that of her father, particularly concerning the holocaust and anti-Semitism. Today there is a new political position; the scape-goats have changed: Islam is the new problem, according to the party. After having seen the results of the survey, Le Pen said, ‘the French people want another type of politics’. She then added that Sarkozy is no longer popular. 

The new popularity of the Front National is certainly because of its new leader, and perhaps the absence of Jean-Marie. He said: ‘I think that Marine will be different (to me). She is a woman, 40 years younger and understands today’s society.’ And she has already changed the party hugely. She refuses to accept the term ‘extreme-right’. According to the BBC, Agnes Poirier believes that Le Pen will eliminate Sarkozy in the first round of voting. 

It is necessary to consider the life and past of Marine before continuing. Marine Le Pen was born on the 5th August 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine (Hauts-de-Seine, France). She claims to have been interested in politics since she was 13, when she began accompanying her father to various political meetings. She studied to become a lawyer, but in 1998 stopped practising law to start working for the Front National. Unfortunately, there is some evidence to suggest that Le Pen’s childhood was not without some difficulty. When she was eight her house was bombed in Paris. When she was sixteen, her mother had an affair with the writer of her father’s biography. Her mother’s affair has had two principal effects on Marine: firstly, she was devastated to lose her mother. Then she became very close to her father.

What is the new image of the Front National under Marine Le Pen? For a lot of French people, Marine is pretty, and expresses herself clearly and eloquently. Consequently, she communicates easily and abundantly with the press. No one was surprised when she won the party’s candidate contest against Bruno Gollnisch. A number of her ideals are shared with her father: against immigration, for capital punishment. Surprisingly, however, Marine is quite liberal regarding certain social issues, such as abortion. Despite the party’s more soft image, it still provokes controversy in France. People have accused Le Pen of making comparisons between the number of Muslims in France with the occupation of France by the Nazis. Time.com said ‘(Le Pen) is a captivating figure in French politics. She has been effectively that since 2009, when she emerged as the new face of the extreme right’. Furthermore, anyone can see Le Pen’s natural ability in debate.

Is it possible for Le Pen to win the presidential election in 2012? Yes, perhaps. I began with a quotation from General de Gaulle: “Patriotism is loving your country; nationalism is hating others.” According to Eddie Constantine, who writes for Le Post, Le Pen fully understands this. In fact, Le Pen said: ‘Patriots of all countries unite!’ after accepting her role as leader in January. Marine can win the election because there are problems in today’s society that can cause people to vote in an extreme way. There is the economic crisis, of course. It is worth remembering that Hitler’s rise to power in 1932 came three years after the Wall Street Crash in 1929. The middle classes fear unemployment and poverty.

Why might it be important that Marine Le Pen is a woman?
For the first time in its history, the Front National has a programme running specifically for female voters, according to Stephen Cassagne, writing for Rue89.com. Lots of people distrusted Jean-Marie Le Pen, but Marine is popular amongst both men and women. Almost 30% of people aged 35-49 expressed the intention of voting Le Pen, as well as 18% of over-35s and 11% of over-60s. Jerome Foruquet thinks that it was just a ‘great novelty in 2007’. Why is it that over-30s want to vote for Le Pen? Fourquet continues ‘it is an age where women pay more attention to questions of security, the needs of their children and juvenile delinquency’. This section of society tends to think of others, most notably their children, before themselves. They are also the people most exposed to financial difficulties. Le Pen has been described as ‘the mother of the modern family’, so the solution for many parents of young children lies with her.
On the 22nd March 2011, the sociologist Alain Mergier wrote an article for Le Monde entitled, ‘the FN vote is no longer a protest vote’. An important issue is whether the Front National is a party suitable to govern, or simply a way of expressing discontent at the political incumbents. Of course, Le Pen would like to think the former is correct, and perhaps she is right: the French electorate has moved away from viewing the Front National as a protest vote: instead it is a positive one.

The extreme-right is rising in prominence throughout Europe. In western democracies, there is a notable shift in the political spectrum, towards the right. The Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium find themselves without majority governments thanks to extreme-right candidates and parties. Furthermore, far-right parties govern Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia. According to The Daily Telegraph, there are two reasons why this is the case. Firstly, there is negative feeling amongst many towards immigration. And also there is the economic crisis, affecting all of Europe. There is also the growing problem of Islamophobia. What is most worrying is that the majority of political parties in Europe are not prepared to confront these problems directly. In the UK, the Conservative Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not directly debate about the alleged problems that immigration is causing. In the 2010 election, half a million voters chose the British National Party, and a further 900,000 voted for UKIP. Nicolas Sarkozy’s response to the issue of immigration is to expel illegal immigrants, particularly the Roma, as soon as possible.

What is the future of the Front National? In August 2011, Atlantico published an article entitled: ‘The Front National: It must get rid of dad!’ This opinion came after the Norwegian killings in the summer of 2011. Jean-Marie Le Pen said that ‘naivety’ of the government was the cause of the problems, and that the Norwegian people were ‘worse’ than the massacre itself, which he deemed an ‘accident’. These comments provoked the President of Norway to say that Le Pen senior was ‘totally irresponsible’ and ‘indecent’. Some believe that the comments were made in order to satisfy, and gain back support from, the more extreme followers of the party, who may think that Le Pen is too liberal to be leader. Of course the Front National needs all the votes it can get if it wants any chance of success – it would be absolutely fatal for Le Pen to lose her most extreme followers, or her more liberal ones.

To conclude, I believe that the rise of the Front National in the poll ratings and the media was caused by partisan dealignment, that is to say, voters switching their allegiance from a major party such as the UMP or the Socialist Party to a smaller one. But after having researched this, it seems that a more likely explanation is the emergence of a new political spectrum. The economic downturn has caused the most prominent household concerns to be ‘Will I find a job?’ and ‘Are the immigrants taking them all from us?’ Le Pen responds to these questions confidently and articulately, and sometimes other parties avoid having to do so.

There is one other conclusion, however, that could be made. It is not inconceivable that Le Pen’s political opponents want her to succeed, to an extent. The number of abstentions in France is increasing. Vincent Vauclin said that ‘it is easier to tackle Le Pen than abstentions... a huge abstention complicates the political process, making governing with a legitimate mandate very difficult indeed.’ It is my opinion, however, that Le Pen will never become the president of France, because in today’s society, it has become easier to tackle the problem of fascism, because we have already seen the horrible problems it provokes.

Read George Hope's article on the 2012 French Presidential election at:

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