Just when everything was looking politically cosy, the latest, not unchallenged, opinion poll comes up with a result that has everyone talking, though most of it, it must be said, hyperbole. The recently elected head of the far right Front National party, Marine Le Pen, scored 23% ahead of potential candidates for both the UMP (Conservative) party, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Parti Socialiste (Labour), Lille mayor, Martine Aubry, who both scored 21%.
A lot of hot air has been wasted declaring this to be the beginning of a new revolution in french politics and how Madame Le Pen is assured a place in the second round of the presidential election next year. Papa scraped into the second round only because the socialists performance was so dire and their candidate, Lionel Jospin appeared to take for granted a run off against the incumbent Jacque Chirac. In the second round the Front National added less than one percent to their score and were trounced by a resurgent support from an electorate that had woken up from its disinterested torpor and realised that they needed to prevent an extreme candidate from taking the keys to the Elysée Palace. The contest reads rather differently having passed into french folklore and it is often forgotten that there was never really any danger of a Le Pen victory apart from in media terms.
So why does this early poll indicate such a wave of support for the Front National: it can only be because of its new leader. Marine Le Pen is younger than any of the main parties' potential candidates, let us not forget that we don't have any official candidates, and will be only 43 come the election. She is attractive, clever, a lawyer by profession just like Sarkozy, and had been steadily building up her image as someone who understands what the French people want, and, with it, her own support. Some say that appearances do deceive as, despite the softer look and approach, under her leadership that policies are, if anything, more rigidly far right wing.
Whoever the candidates are they will, again, have to square the circle which is that the French crave change for their country but are not willing to change themselves. Marine Le Pen is perhaps most aware of this and most willing to make changes. Not changes that would become a modern european state in the 21st century perhaps. Until the other parties start talking meaningful change and strong leadership then they may find themselves elbowed out by the FN muscles Marine-ière.
PS as in post scriptum not Parti Socialiste! A further opinion poll appeared to show Le Pen in a similar lead but both have been discredited to an extent for having paid the respondees. A generally well considered poll published today (10 March) has the Front National leader back in a respectable third place ie not through to the second round. Whichever way the cake is sliced the socialists currently look well placed to trounce Petit Nicolas.