France’s National Front lurches towards crisis despite Le Pen’s 10.6 million votes

Infighting, finger-pointing, fatigue and damaging resignations have left the National Front in disarray not even two weeks after Marine Le Pen scored a record 10.6 million votes in the presidential election.

France's National Front lurches towards crisis despite Le Pen's 10.6 million votes
Photo: AFP

Le Pen may have scored her party's biggest election success by gaining 34 percent of the vote in the second round of the presidential election and with it some 10.6 million votes but all is not well with the far right National Front party.

Le Pen wanted to take the momentum of her party's biggest ever share of the electorate into June's parliamentary elections vowing to become France's “main opposition force”.

But the wheels have come off the juggernaut in recent days as the fallout from Le Pen's long election campaign opens splits on the far right.

There are reasons why there is talk of a “crisis” and an “implosion” within the party and why things may not get better anytime soon. 

Marine Le Pen claims 'massive' gains but plans party revamp after defeat

National Front supporters critical of Marine Le Pen

By the time Marine Le Pen faced Emmanuel Macron in the live TV debate on May 3rd, some in the National Front party were already criticizing her campaign for focusing too much on the EU and not enough on core issues such as immigration and identity.

Many also saw her first round score of 21 percent as a huge disappointment given that she had been polling at 28 percent earlier tin the campaign.

But Le Pen's performance during the live TV debate drew stern criticism not only from the press and from her opponents, but also from National Front's officials and supporters.

Jean-Pierre Legrand, the National Front's mayor of Roubaix, declared he wouldn't want to see the party's leader win the election, saying she showed she “didn't have the stature to be president”.

“It is a shame because I think it was the only opportunity for Marine Le Pen to be elected president. We can now be sure that there will be an internal crisis and tensions within the National Front,” said the mayor.

Le Pen's niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen 'deserts' the party

Shortly after the second round defeat came the shock decision of Le Pen's niece Marion Marechal Le Pen, a powerful figure to the right of the party, to quit politics and not run for a second term as an MP.

Marechal Le Pen announced she was stepping out of politics “for now” to pursue a career in the private sector.

Her grandfather Jean-Marine Le Pen, the former head of the party, called the move a “desertion”. 

There are suggestions her decision was motivated by strategy, perhaps wanting to step away from the action with the party threatening to turn on itself.

There has been speculation she will now bide her time and return to the fold perhaps as part of a new right wing party.

Le Pen exhausted and fears defeat again

The tiring presidential campaign and it's brutal, raucous end, culminating in Le Pen's disastrous TV debate performance has taken its toll on the National Front's leader.

Le Pen is due to stand in the parliamentary elections in the town of Henin-Beaumont, northern France, but there are now suggestions she may pull out. 

Apart from being mentally and physically exhausted Le Pen is worried what another election defeat would do to her standing in the party.

By Wednesday she had still not confirmed she would be running for Henin-Beaumont.

Le Pen's legal woes

Another problem Le Pen faces in the future is allegations she used funds for EU parliamentary assistants to pay staff members for party work in France.

Le Pen was summoned by French magistrates to answer questions over the allegations but she refused to go, invoking her EU parliamentary immunity.

French prosecutors have asked the EU parliament to lift Le Pen's immunity and at some point she will have to face the magistrates. She could face a damaging trial and even worse a conviction if prosecutors prove the allegations are true.

Party split over the euro

Many believe one of the mistakes of the National Front's presidential election campaign was Le Pen's promise to scrap the euro and bring back the franc, which scared voters who valued their savings more than they hated the single currency.

Some National Front big wigs have recognised the error and have since decided to scrap what became a policy shrouded in confusion.

One of Marine Le Pen's top aides Gilbert Collard (right in above photo) declared after the election that for his party, “the question of [scrapping] the euro was over”.

However another Le Pen ally, the party deputy Florian Philippot (left in above photo) threatened to leave the party if Le Pen dropped the issue.

“I'm not here to keep a job at every cost and defend the opposite of my profound conviction,” he told RMC radio.

There is trouble ahead.

Philippot widens splits by launching own association

Philippot, who is not popular among more traditional members of the party not least its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen caused anger and confusion within the party this week by setting up a new organisation called “The Patriots”.

Many in the National Front, including Marine Le Pen's partner Louis Aliot questioned why a new association was needed and their reaction undermined a growing split between party vice president Philippot and the traditional wing.

Philippot said the new association was “to defend and carry the message” that Marine Le Pen gave on the evening of the second round of the presidential election.

And it was Le Pen's message that threatens to be the real divisive issue as the party moves forward.

National Front to change its name?

After accepting defeat to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen told sympathizers: “I suggest we begin a profound transformation of our movement to create a new political force,” she said, adding: “I call on all patriots to join us.”

The name of Philippot's organisation suggests his association has been set up to look how the party can remodel itself and even change its name from the National Front, which will be a hugely controversial move.

But Philippot is in favour, knowing the party is still tainted by its anti-Semitic, racist roots.

Speaking after Le Pen's election defeat he said: “The National Front is going to evolve, it's going to use this rallying energy.”

The party, he said, “is going to transform itself in a new political force which, by definition, will no longer have the same name.”

But if Philippot and Le Pen push ahead with their plan, and Le Pen's own father Jean Marie (left in above photo) has already said he is against it, then it may just split the party. Perhaps that is their intention.

Christèle Marchand-Lagier, a French political scientist and an expert on the National Front told The Local: “The Presidential campaign hasn't reinforced the National Front's credibility.

“Changing the party's name can attract more people, but it will not be enough. The party needs more normalization and a big clean out.”

Facing another disappointing parliamentary elections

Normally after gaining 10.6 million votes in the presidential election an “outsiders” party like the National Front should look forward to the parliamentary elections with the hope of gaining a large number of seats.

But for the National Front, which only has two MPs currently, the parliamentary elections are a much harder challenge.

According to party official Jean-François Bloc, the National Front is not used to openness, its officials are not sufficiently trained nor do they have the required experience.

Christèle Marchand-Lagier adds the party lacks competent officials.

“There are young people who want to start a political career and have chosen the National Front, but when it comes to selection we don't know what kind of skills the party values.

“Mistakes in the choice of candidates are very visible”, Marchand-Lagier told The Local.

The National Front finds it difficult to win seats due to other parties tactically voting in the second round to block their candidates. There is no suggestion why that will change this time around.

If the National Front fail to make it into double figures for MPs in the next parliament, then it will feel like yet another decisive defeat for the party and prompt yet more soul searching and recriminations.

It may turn out that 2017 was the last year of the National Front as we know it.

by Elisabeth Beretta/Ben McPartland














Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”