Search This Blog

Monday, March 07, 2011

Muscles Marine-ière

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%.

Marine Le Pen is the  daughter of the outgoing bête grise of french politics, octagenarian Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose peak performance was to knock out the socialist presidential candidate in the first round way back in 2002.

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.
I believe it is sensible to discount an outright victory for Le Pen next year, though possibly she may get into the second round and with it receive the kind of exposure that money cannot buy. More likely though this apparent lead will galvanise both the main parties into doing at very least just enough to bring their own back into their respective folds.  Or it should.  Sarkozy has found himself just about maintaining the support of his own party sympathisers and is thoroughly and widely disliked if not completely reviled, though the UMP have no other choice but to go with his candidature should he stand again. It is unlikely, given his ego, that he would forgo that right. The PS are still shilly shallying about their candidate opting to wait until this autumn to decide. Their previous candidate, Ségolène Royal has thrown her hat once more into the ring but is unlikely to be chosen again. The leading contenders are Martine Aubry, safe pair of hands on the wheel uncharismatic but Angela Merkel-like president of the PS, and the current president of the International Monetary Fund, Dominic Strauss-Kahn. He is at least more of a personality but also a philanderer by all accounts and he has been away from mainstream french politics for perhaps too long. Other polls have shown DSK, as he is known, beating Sarkozy soundly and Aubry winning against Sarko too though by a smaller margin. Those polls hadn't taken into account a possible FN presence in the second round.

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.