The French elite are playing into Le Pen’s hands

13 April 2022

8:12 PM

13 April 2022

8:12 PM

The cry of ‘aux barricades’ is reverberating around France as the country’s political elite rush to form a Republican Front. There is diversity in the ranks of those lining up to prevent Marine Le Pen reaching the Élysée. Communists, Capitalists and past presidents and prime ministers have mobilised for Emmanuel Macron ahead of the second round on Sunday week.

Who would have thought France would see the day when Nicolas Sarkozy, President ‘Bling Bling’ as he was nicknamed during his time in office, would find common ground with Fabien Roussel, the Communist leader, or for that matter a pair of Socialists in former president François Hollande and his PM Manuel Valls?

Also issuing a call to arms against Le Pen is Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He finished third in Sunday’s first round and, unlike in 2017, when he incurred the wrath of the Paris political establishment by refusing to endorse Macon, this time he has ordered his 7.7 million voters not to vote for Le Pen.

She is indignant. ‘I’ve been astonished by the behaviour of Jean-Luc Mélenchon,’ she told a radio interviewer on Tuesday. It was, Le Pen continued, a mystery to her how the left-wing Mélenchon could in effect side with the ‘violently anti-social Emmanuel Macron’.

It will also puzzle many working-class supporters of Mélenchon, uncomfortable that their leader has chosen to implicitly support an arch capitalist. Not that they will all blindly follow his instructions; the latest polling suggests that 23 per cent of Mélenchon’s voters will back Le Pen with 33 switching to Macron. The rest will sit out the second round.

Those that have transferred their allegiance to Le Pen might find some of her rhetoric distasteful, dislike her intention to make the wearing of a headscarf a fineable offence, and disapprove of her talk of France being ‘submerged’ by migrants. But her economic manifesto and her antagonism towards Brussels is far more appealing than Macron’s globalism and his Europhilia.

Until this week Mélenchon frequently railed against Macron’s economic ‘brutality’, and said he was a cross between Blair and Thatcher, ‘a pure creature of the neo-liberal system’. But all that has been cast aside, as has his Euroscepticism. He is now aligned with Sarkozy who, in backing Macron, praised his ‘commitment to Europe’. It was Sarko’s government who in 2008 pushed through the Lisbon Treaty, ignoring the earlier referendum result that had rejected the EU Constitution. The ‘Non’ vote had been led by the left, with Mélenchon prominent in their campaign.

The reaction of the beaten left wing candidates in aligning themselves with Macron reveals how disconnected they are from their electorate. On Monday I quoted the pollster Jérôme Fourquet who had explained in an interview that it is outdated to think in terms of a left versus right divide in France; rather the new battle lines are between the winners of globalisation and the losers, the former generally middle-class and metropolitan and the latter working class and provincial.

Macron has encountered some of the losers this week. On Monday he was confronted by an angry voter in the north of France and on Tuesday evening there was a testy exchange as he toured a town in the east of the country. ‘The manner in which you have treated the people since the start of your mandate is a scandal,’ bristled a man. ‘You are so arrogant, so dismissive, so cynical… I’ve never seen such a useless president.’ Macron gave as good as he got and admonished his interlocutor for his lack of ‘respect’.

Never in the 64-year history of the Fifth Republic has the gulf between the political class and the working class been so wide. Roussel may be the communist leader, but he’s a middle-class communist. ‘Like many left-wing politicians, Roussel hasn’t got the slightest idea about the class struggle,’ said a recent editorial in Frustration, an online left wing magazine. ‘One just has to look at the vocabulary he uses to describe the social world.’

Roussel and Mélenchon think they are being virtuous in signalling to their supporters not to vote for Le Pen; but all they have done is signal how alienated they are from them. Just as the Socialist party lost touch with their core electorate with disastrous consequences, so Roussel and Mélenchon have disillusioned many of their voters by backing Macron. Surely silence would have been better? Their supporters are grown-ups, let them decide who to vote for without any high-minded hectoring. Ultimately, their posturing plays into the hands of Le Pen, enabling her to pitch herself as the last anti-establishment politician in the room, friend of the downtrodden and disaffected.

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