France elections: The far right and far left

 
Jean-Luc Melenchon (14 April) and Marine Le Pen (17 April) composite Jean-Luc Melenchon and Marine Le Pen attracted big crowds this week

Surrounded by a flag-waving, foot-stamping audience Marine Le Pen spread her arms wide and shouted "Yes, France - shout your rage and scream your hope". She threw her arms out once more as she concluded with a cry: "Yes France."

She stood there enjoying the rapture of an audience of 6,000 that filled the Zenith convention centre in Paris for the final rally of her campaign. She has become a powerful if at times operatic speaker. She bounced on to the stage in her black trouser suit and blonde hair, waving and smiling.

Like Eva Peron, she presents herself as a fighter for neglected working people. She is against "les aristocrates" - the elites. "Sarkozy and Hollande represent the interests of the rich and powerful," she tells her audience.

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Francois Hollande can depend on the far left voting for him. Nicolas Sarkozy cannot depend on the support of the far right”

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She has rebranded the party. It is still fiercely anti-immigrant but she has moved against extremists and those who were openly racist. She has broadened the appeal of the party led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen who sat in the audience.

Her message is simple but powerful: France's identity is being destroyed by immigration and by a European elite. "You want to feel at home in your own country," she tells her supporters and they know what she means.

She repeatedly mentioned immigration but she has cleverly linked concerns about identity with the economic crisis. She tells her audience that globalisation has taken their jobs from them. She blames the European elite and says that the European dream has turned into a nightmare and lives have been wrecked.

One recent poll gave her 17% of the vote. Back in January she had hoped she would reach 20% but that seems unrealistic now. In 2002 her father got 16.9% of the vote and a place in the second round.

Young audience
A supporter of Marine Le Pen (17 Apr) One poll suggested Marine Le Pen was the most popular leader among young people

But part of this campaign is about building a wider movement for the future. One of the features of her crowd was the number of young people. This was a very different audience to the one that used to attend National Front rallies.

One recent poll indicated that among 16 to 24-year-olds she was the most popular party leader. After her speech she made a point of being surrounded by young people on stage.

Every time there was mention of Nicolas Sarkozy the audience booed. They feel betrayed by him. At difficult times, they tell you, the French president tried to steal their clothes and to speak their language but in office he has not delivered.

So, come the second round, when the two remaining candidates are likely to be President Sarkozy and the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, the president will be at a disadvantage.

Francois Hollande can depend on the far left voting for him. Nicolas Sarkozy cannot depend on the support of the far right.

Socialist dream
Marseille beach (14 Apr 2012) Around 100,000 people came to hear Jean-Luc Melenchon speak

The star of the first round has been the far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. He has got the attention and has seen his poll ratings shoot up to 14 or 15%. He, too, has drawn large crowds.

Around 100,000 came to the beach in Marseille to hear him last weekend.

He blends the romance of the Socialist dream with the current anger towards the bankers and capitalism. He calls for a civic uprising and places himself in the revolutionary tradition.

He, too, believes that international finance and austerity - as embraced by the European Union - is destroying the lives of ordinary people.

He would increase the minimum wage and cut the age of retirement. Unashamedly, he supports a redistribution of wealth. He would tax income of over 350,000 euros a year at 100%. The old left, the communists and an army of new voters embittered by the economic crisis have come to his side.

The crowd like his directness and the romance of his language. He is trying to build a movement of the left that he hopes will do well in the parliamentary elections in June.

He believes that what happens in France will act as a beacon across Europe where he sees a European movement of the left challenging the narrative as told by the IMF, the ECB and Brussels.

He has said his supporters will support Francois Hollande in the second round. The Sarkozy camp are warning that, if elected, Hollande would be a prisoner of a far-left firebrand.

Detached from reality

France does not seem in the mood to discuss the spending cuts that will surely have to come or the changes to their welfare system that must follow. There are no debates about regaining competitiveness.

Nicolas Sarkozy has fallen silent on the need to make France more like Germany. The election is strangely detached from reality. It is all about who will save the French dream, who will persuade the French that their way of life, with all its benefits, can be protected.

What links the far left and the far right is a belief that the European Union is not on the side of working people and that globalisation benefits the elites. And, in the first round, this view may attract 30% of the votes.

Standing with the crowd in the Zenith the other night, the same thought occurred to me whilst covering the Obama campaign four years ago. What has happened to the political rally in Britain? What British leader would gather 100,000 on a beach or fill the equivalent of the Place de la Concorde in Paris?

What has happened to making the political pitch not to a TV audience but to a large crowd with all its uncertainties.

 
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  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 17.

    Neither Le Pen or Meluchon can be considered `Far' anything. They are just not part of the centrist porridge which is modern politics. They appeal to specific constituencies, express certain opinions and seek to convince. This is what is called democracy.

    I note Le Pen's audience of 6000 is given first billing to Meluchon's 100000 in the report. Who are the media scared of the most?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 16.

    @14
    "PS. G. Bush's Chief of Joint Staffs, secretary of State and National Security Advisor were black"

    Man, can you realise that blacks like Obama, Rice and Powell are the members of a centuries old community of US CITIZENS with full constitutional rights? What's this brag of yours about them being high profile officials? Very telling that you think it's a big deal to be voiced over and over

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 15.

    Populism is not something the EU is needed right now. But it is happening in France, because there has been no political elite in France recently able to cope, calmly and visionary, with the moment of time. It seems they are just preparing the ground. The same applies to the realm of the entire EU.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 14.

    Correction to #10 : there are plenty of Latinos living peacefully and legally in the US. And NOT smuggling drugs to El Norte.

    [not to mention: not being discriminated against in any shape&form.
    Just like a huge majority of Muslim Arabs living peacefully in U.S.]

    PS. G. Bush's Chief of Joint Staffs, secretary of State and National Security Advisor were black, and Labor Secretary - Asian.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 13.

    Running like mad in every direction at the same time....chickens with their heads cut off. The only place France and the EU are going is down. They're clueless as usual.
    Ole'! Ole'! Ole'!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    @10
    "Btw. In the country of KKK US president, his ambassador to UN, Justice Department chief, etc. happen to be black"

    And with 3 Republican MPs out of 4 playing the soft balls launched by the birther nuts that claim Obama wasn't born in the Haway but is a full-fledged African, not entitled to the Oval Room.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 11.

    "France does not seem in the mood to discuss the spending cuts that will surely have to come or the changes to their welfare system that must follow."

    Is Austerity the new dogma? Who decided that spending cuts and reducing the welfare system was the only way forward?

    "Unashamedly, he supports a redistribution of wealth."

    I wonder in what circles this is considered a shameful proposition.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 10.

    Re #9
    Well, it's actually Rio Grande (pretty long one).

    And between 15 and 20 million of illegal immigrants it is a major [ECONOMIC] problem for US even without any racial undertones.

    [there are plenty of Latinos living peacefully and legally in the US
    And smuggling drugs]

    Btw. In the country of KKK US president, his ambassador to UN, Justice Department chief, etc. happen to be black.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 9.

    8. powermeerkat

    Definitely yep.
    Actually Europe is approaching in style the manhunt of Latinos along the Rio Bravo, where even 14 years old US kids are taught by their parents to use guns to contain the "aliens' threat". Shame on Europe if it's ever to look like shameful US.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 8.

    "Even the Ku Klux Klan has replaced the catchword "white supremacy" with the more fashionable "our identity"."





    Ditto in Germany (cf. the resurgence of Neo-Nazis and NPD)

    And in Italy, where nobody dares utter the world "Gypsies".
    [Just like in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.]

    Let alone "North Africans".

    Or "Muslims" - in Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and UK.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 7.

    GH: "France does not seem in the mood to discuss the spending cuts that will surely have to come or the changes to their welfare system that must follow."

    The latest alarming data from Spain and Italy notwithstanding.

    When Titanic was sinking its orchestra was ordered to play till the end to create an illusion that sitution was not so dire after all.
    [what made me think of that?]

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 6.

    Le Pen claiming that French identity is being destroyed by immigration is not only code for a racist remark but surely an insult to the strength and distinctiveness of its culture. The far Right have always used this argument and coupled with the dearth of employment. It never works. Melenchon can promise good stuff knowing he will never have to deliver but serve a useful purpose Left conscience

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 5.

    The art of Oratory in UK politics appears to be dead - and I'm not sure we should mourn it overmuch. What these people, and Sarkozy, and Hollande, and yes even the US politicos are doing is more like emotional rabble-rousing than political discourse. About 80 years ago it was quite prevalent, and look where that led...

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 4.

    In the 2nd round Melanchon voterws will supporte Holande.


    GH: "[M] would increase the minimum wage and cut the age of retirement. He would tax income of over 350,000 euros a year at 100%. The old left, the communists and an army of new voters embittered by the economic crisis have come to his side."


    Bodes well for France's future if Holande and his Socialists win.
    With Commies' support

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 3.

    What each of these candidates have in common is that they appeal to the 'anti-politics/politician' vote. The French, like plenty of people in other countries are feeling sore: lost jobs, lower incomes, etc. They blame politicians - of all parties. These two are seen as giving voice to the common people's feelings. (Mélenchon has led a brilliant campaign). But I want neither to win.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -21

    Comment number 1.

    "France's identity is being destroyed by immigration and by a European elite. "You want to feel at home in your own country," she tells her supporters and they know what she means"

    Even the Ku Klux Klan has replaced the catchword "white supremacy" with the more fashionable "our identity". And in Europe, mostly, "European elite" is code for the dear old "demo-judeo-plutocracy" of the 30s.

 

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