France: Front National Leads Vote But Fails to Win Regional Power. A Left Analysis.
The BBC reports,
The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on 6 December as more people voted, according to the ministry of the interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73% to 27.36%. The Republicans increased their share from 26.65% to 40.63% and the Socialists from 23.12% to 29.14%. The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on 6 December to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures are based on a count of 98% of votes so far.
Despite leading in the first round of regional elections last week, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) failed to gain a single region in the second round of voting in France on Sunday.
The head of the FN, Marine Le Pen had hoped to make history on Sunday night by gaining control of a region for the first time. But after winning 28 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of elections, the FN was pushed back in the second round as voters rallied behind the conservative Les Républicains party and President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).
The FN had been riding high, exploiting an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. The party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But that initial success failed to translate into any second-round victories.
The FN was defeated in three key regions where it had come in first place last week: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur and Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. The Socialists had pulled their candidates out of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur races to defeat the FN and it appears that many of their voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.
Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, while rival conservative Xavier Bertrand took around 58 percent.
Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won about 45 percent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region against conservative Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who received around 54 percent.
In Alsace Champagne-Ardenne Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, had refused to pull out of the race, even after trailing in the first round of elections. Despite that refusal to follow the Socialist Party’s orders, the FN candidate in the region, Florian Philippot, was defeated by Les Républicains candidate Philippe Richert, earning 36 percent of the vote against his 48 percent.
After her defeat Sunday night, Marine Le Pen insisted that the National Front was the first party of France. She said the election results would not discourage the “inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement” behind her party.
Pause for breath – there is worse to come:
“Nothing can stop us now,” Le Pen said after polls closed. “By tripling our number of councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France.”
Equally defiant, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who ran in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, urged supporters not to be disappointed. “We will redouble our efforts,” she said. “There are some victories that shame the winners.”
The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.
The election was seen as an important measure of support for Le Pen ahead of 2017 presidential elections.
Tactical voting boosts Sarkozy’s Les Républicains
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party won seven of mainland France’s 13 regions, giving them the largest share. However, it’s almost certain Les Républicains would not have been as successful without the tactical support of the ruling PS.
Conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand acknowledged as much in a speech after his victory against Marine Le Pen in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.
“I thank the voters for protecting our beautiful region,” said Bertrand. “I also want to thank the voters of the left who clearly voted to create a rampart (against the FN).”
On the left there is not much relief.
Une nouvelle fois, le sursaut républicain a bloqué l’avancée du FN. Mais ignorer l’avertissement serait dévastateur pour les partis traditionnels. Comments Libération.
The Republican ‘surge’ has blocked the FN’s progress. But the traditional parties ignore the warning at their own peril.
L’Humanité notes, “La mobilisation d’une proportion assez importante des abstentionnistes a fait la différence.” But deep difficulties remain: the left has to mobilise amongst the people to fight the far-right’s ideas.
We also observe that the Corsican nationalists now control the regional council in Corsica (le Monde).
- The Front National has failed to take over some of the levers of the established French political structure. This is a victory for their opponents. Regional councils, it has been observed, are a relativity cost-free platform for the display of administrative stagecraft. Control of their budgets gives an opportunity to show off policies, reward patrons, and attract attention. Control of one of them would not have tested the FN’s national policies. It would have given the far-right party momentum. They do not have this.
- The cost of the “sursaut républicain” is not to be underestimated. Despite reports that the FN is now attracting members from highly educated and .experienced French administrative sectors (traditional sources of political cadres) the party continues to claim that it stands alone against the other parties, the political elite, the equivalent of the Spanish ‘casta’. With the Parti Socialiste calling its supporters to vote for Sarkozy’s Les Républicains in the regions where they were alone capable of beating Marine Le Pen’s party, the claim will continue to appeal to their electorate.
- The FN still headed the results. Indications that they performed well in the first round amongst young people (34% amongst the 18-24 year olds), the unemployed, workers (43%) , self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers (35%), white collar public sector workers (30%) and indeed all social categories. While the party is most supported amongst the young and the “popular classes” the results suggest a party with a broader national appeal than any other French political force. (Elections régionales : qui a voté FN ?)
- From a rate of 57% in the first round, to 50% in the second, abstention marked these elections. That workers, the out-of-work, and above all the young, are amongst the biggest groups of abstentionists, is thin against the above evidence of their far-right voting. (le Front national, premier parti chez les jeunes… qui votent.Le Monde. 7.12.15.)
- Claims that there is a “left wing’, ‘national’ socialist (protectionist and working class) strain in the far-right’s language in the formerly left North, and a more traditional hard right (xenophobic and morally reactionary) line in the South East, have been eroded in this election. They were always doubtful – given the homogenising effects of modern politics. ( Les trois visages du vote FN Joël Gombin Le Monde Diplomatique November 2015.) But both the protectionist, and above all the xenophobic themes in the FN’s policies have had a nation wide impact.
- The results have produced a crisis on the French right and left. On the right there are growing voices to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to run again for the Presidency. . The former is a serious political project, led by Sarkozy’s long-term more emollient and apparently more ‘moderate’ rival, Alain Juppé after what is widely seen as a personal set-back for Nicolas Sarkozy (Nicolas Sarkozy face à un échec personnel).
- On the left, there are those in the ruling Parti Socialiste who wish to create a new centre left party free from the historic baggage of the left, and indeed the word socialist. This skirts over the more difficult task of re-connecting with the popular electorate. A government headed by one of the few politicians in France to admire Tony Blair, Manuel Valls, that has failed to offer substantial reforms to improve the quality of life for wage-earners, reduce unemployment, and has been unable to relaunch economic growth, is not in a strong position to appeal to these lost voters.
- The left, taking stock, did not suffer electoral annihilation, although it lost in important regions, including the Ile de France (surrounding Paris, perhaps the consequence of a big, 10.2% drop in the FN vote between rounds). With 5 regions for the left against 7 for the right it may seem as if their formal political strength has stood up. The Socialists, in agreement with the Greens (EELV), 6,81 %, and the Front de gauche, nevertheless did not shine in the electoral scores (around 7%). Inside the Front de gauche Jean-Luc Mélenchon has complained that the complex regional alliances and lists that the bloc has entered into prevented getting a clear message across. It is very doubtful if this was a major factor in their results – although perhaps somewhere in France Mélenchon’s personal message of the Bolivarian Revolution, on the Venezuelan model has support. His own refusal to give any recommendation for the second round was not universally appreciated. The Greens lost half their votes – they had 12,18% in 2010. ( Elections régionales : la débâcle des écologistes).
There is no argument that a fundamental reason for the FN’s rise in support lies in its encouragement and use of anti-Muslim feeling. This reached a crescendo after the slaughters of the 13th of November. (Le Front national se déchaîne sur l’islam. Le Monde. 4.12.15.)
President Hollande responded to the massacres with a state of emergency and airborne retaliation in Syria against Daesh.
His personal popularity leapt, but his party, the Socialists, did not benefit.
The FN have been able to take advantage of the popular mood because of a boarder package of polities. This can be seen in the social composition of their electorate. Unless one believes that young people, workers and the unemployed are particularly hostile to Muslims, and that this was the reason for their ballot box choice, we would look into what this demagogy in embedded within.
The theme of “security” against ‘Islam’ and, more widely, “foreigners” is tied to a deeper set of ideas, a national ideology, that animates the party of Marine Le Pen, nationalist ‘sovereigntism’ (the principle that the ‘nation’ should be the source of all political, economic and social decison0making and virtue). Their attraction for the young, the working class and all shades of “precarious” employed people lies in the call to protect the French nation from outside forces, foreigners, refugees, migrants and economic powers. That is, to give them jobs, and preserve living standards, and social security.
The FN claims not be primarily ‘anti’ other nations, religions or peoples: it is for France. It claims to be the best political force to protect French citizens from outside threats; not to seek out new areas in which to expand French power. The FN has been supportive of Russian interests (for which they have been rewarded), over the Crimea and Ukraine, which they see in terms of another nation standing up to foreign menaces.
In this sense the Front National is sometimes described as ‘national populist’ , not fascist; defensive rather than overtly imperialist.
Its policies centre on ‘national priority’ for French citizens in jobs, and welfare, stricter controls of immigration, ‘Laïcité’ (secularism) but recognition of France’s ‘Christian’ roots, strict laws on ‘security’ including reestablishing the death penalty, and a long list of measures designed to protect French industry and make French law supreme against EU legislation.
These reactionary ideas are by no means unusual in Europe today.
Many of the FN legislative plans – stricter immigration control and cutting migrants’ right to social benefits – are shared by the mainstream British right, and are policies of the present Cameron government.
The ‘sovereigntist’ approach to the European Union – blaming the EU for France’s poor economic performance and allowing migration are at the heart of the right-wing campaign in the UK to leave the Union.
Before British leftist indulge in their customary lecturing of the French Left there is another aspect of the FN that it’s important to note. Some of the FN’s views on Europe, which see migrant labour as a “tool” of the capitalists to undermine French workers’ living standards, are shared by the anti-EU ‘left’ in the UK. The idea that ‘national’ control of the economy is the way to confront the problems of globalisation is also popular amongst some ‘left-wingers’ here and in France. There is as yet no equivalent of the kind of overt cross-overs from left to right which is a feature of French political life amongst ” souverainistes” but this could easily develop.
Populism, as they say, is about being popular.
In this respect, with 27% of the vote, the prospect of Marine Le Pen emerging at the main challenger in the French Presidential elections on 2017 is strengthened, not weakened by this weekend’s results.
The Communist Party Leader and supporter of the Front de gauche, Pierce Laurent has called for a “new progressive project” to unite the left to stand up against the right and the extreme right, fighting austerity, and engaging in measures to tackle the problems of the world of work (Régionales : Déclaration de Pierre Laurent.).
Ensemble, also like the PCF, part of the Front de gauche, have equally called for a new approach, “Pour rassembler, il faut un projet commun de tous ceux qui à gauche et dans le mouvement social ne renoncent pas et aspirent à une alternative politique de rupture avec le libéralisme, un nouvel espoir.”
There is now the suggestion that the Front de gauche, the alliance of these two forces with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche and others, ism posed to dissolve. Après les régionales, le Front de gauche en sursis. This will leave Mélenchon more free time to campaign against German influence in Europe.