24 April 2017
After their humiliation with Brexit and Donald Trump, the pollsters returned to form in France with their predictions of a Macron and Le Pen first round victory. If the polls are as accurate with their forecast for the second round, then the new president of France will be the centrist Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year-old is the overwhelming favourite. But nonetheless, there are reasons for the National Front to hope that they could still replicate the political earthquakes of 2016. For that to happen Marine Le Pen will have to attack Macron on two fronts with the purpose of attracting votes from both the far-left and the conservative right. Between them, François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon received 39 per cent of the vote on Sunday night in finishing third and fourth respectively. Fillon swiftly called on his supporters to switch their allegiance to Macron on May 7 – but Mélenchon refused to follow suit, declaring that ‘each knows in their conscience what is their duty’.
Many Mélenchon supporters are likely to abstain from the second round but crucially many could be tempted to vote for the National Front. ‘I will vote for Le Pen in the the second tour and then I will burn my electoral card’, one told reporters on Sunday evening. ‘A lot of communists and Greens are going to do the same as me. Nothing will change with Macron. He’s the candidate of the system’.
Despite their radical differences on some issues, notably immigration, there is common ground between Mélenchon and Le Pen, with the pair sharing a visceral dislike of the European Union and globalisation, both of which form core components of Macron’s vision of France. When the En Marche! leader addressed his jubilant supporters on Sunday night there were numerous EU flags visible in the crowd alongside the French tricolour, not a sight that will have sat well with Mélenchon and his supporters. Nor will the words of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, have been appreciated when he declared in the wake of the first round results: ‘I am certain that Emmanuel Macron will be the next president of France. Great for Europe’. There was also a congratulatory message from Jean-Claude Juncker, who broke protocol to send his support to the En Marche! leader.
Berlin and Brussels should perhaps think of keeping their mouths shut between now and the second round because every time they speak in favour of Macron another thousand Mélenchon supporters are likely to throw in their lot with Le Pen. The National Front leader talked of the ‘savage globalisation’ in her victory speech on Sunday night and it will be a theme that she and her deputy, Florian Philippot, keep hammering home in the next fortnight as they seek to portray the second round as a choice between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ of France
That’s one front. The second front will be led by Maréchal-Le Pen, the 27-year-old niece of the National Front leader, and it will target the disaffected conservatives, particularly those of a Catholic persuasion. Mélenchon wasn’t the only significant voice who failed to endorse Macron on Sunday night; there was similar restraint from ‘Sens Commun’ [Common Sense’], the conservative movement that was the inspiration behind the Manif pour Tous campaign of 2013, a nationwide protest group that opposed the passing of the Same-Sex marriage bill. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to voice their disapproval at the bill and the majority aligned themselves with Fillon in the first round.
Macron, like Marine Le Pen is a social liberal, unlike Maréchal-Le Pen, who is a vocal critic of gay marriage and wants to restrict rights to abortion. Those ideals, allied to her religious beliefs, make her an attractive proposition to the Catholic right who voted for Fillon, another social conservative. In an interview with Christian Familymagazine on Sunday evening, Christophe Billan, the president of Manif pour Tous remarked: ‘How can we choose between the chaos portended by Marine le Pen and the political decay of Emmanuel Macron?’ By looking to Maréchal-Le Pen?
Marine Le Pen and her niece have disagreed on the election strategy of their party with the latter believing that the National Front should have fought the campaign on traditional left v right issues, rather than her aunt’s vision of Globalisation versus Nationalism. The pair have a chance to combine their strategies for the second round. In addition, the younger woman has another important role to play: attracting the youth vote. Macron pulls in the young affluent metropolitan voters but Maréchal-Le Pen can rally those members of her generation who feel threatened by the world.
In an interview with Le Figaro last week, five young women explained why they would be voting for the National Front in the first round: ‘I particularly identify with Marion Maréchal who is an example of the youth which wants to defend its country’, said a 20-year-old student. ‘We feel a sincerity and a taste for the truth in this young woman’. Macron has one foot in the Élysée Palace but there is a slim chance he could yet be dragged out by an unlikely alliance of Communists and Catholics.