The rise of Front National: the French are fed up

Julian Lagnado

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Topics Politics

After the second and final round of regional elections in France, it’s clear there are now only two parties in French politics: Front National and the other one. After all, the Socialist and Republican parties might as well be considered a single party, given their raison d’être now consists of being in opposition to FN.

In the first round last Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s FN won 28.5 per cent of the national vote, but it had highs of 40.3 per cent, 35 per cent and 41 per cent in the north, north-east and south-east regions. President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party was devastated in these regions, averaging around 17 per cent.

Since the first round, there has been panic. Le Monde called it an ‘earthquake’ and Le Figaro said that the Socialists were hysterical. Prime minister Manuel Valls ordered three Socialist candidates to stand down; Jean-Pierre Masseret, president of the Lorraine region, refused. The Economist’s front cover accused FN of ‘Playing with fear’. And, on Friday, Valls, dubbed ‘le petit Sarko’, upped the fear stakes himself by saying FN could lead the country to ‘civil war’.

France is torn. Left-wingers wrestled with their consciences on Sunday and voted for the right-leaning Republicans, just to keep FN out – which worked, seeing as, despite FN’s considerable share of the national vote, it won no seats at all. But quite a few classical centre-right voters did swing to Le Pen. The turnout on Sunday was only slightly higher than last Sunday’s 50 per cent, and the races in the north, north-east and south-east were tight..

Yes, the unholy alliance of Hollande’s Socialists and Sarkozy’s Republicans may have done enough to stop FN from winning a regional seat, but FN is undoubtedly now the most popular party among French working-class voters. It is even attracting people you wouldn’t expect – Florian Philippot, the north-east FN candidate, is gay. FN appears to have a programme and something to say. Higher taxes and the inability of this government to create jobs are also helping FN. In October alone, 40,000 were added to the dole queue, and total unemployment is creeping up to 11 per cent.

People are not impressed with Hollande’s ‘muppet’ posturing and Valls’s aggressive slogans. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, people see a state of emergency, troops on the streets and the closing of borders. But what is the alternative? An ex-president (in the shape of Nicolas Sarkozy) trying to make a comeback? For many, a vote for FN is a vote against a political elite and a bureaucratised Europe that persistently seem to ignore the real concerns of real people. It is a vote of ‘ras le bol‘: we are fed up.

Julian Lagnado is a writer living in France.

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Topics Politics