What Nigel Farage can learn from Marine Le Pen

22 July 2022

5:19 PM

22 July 2022

5:19 PM

It’s been five weeks since Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won 89 seats in the French parliamentary elections and thus far no one has goosestepped into the National Assembly.

This has come a shock to the left who have spent a decade warning that a vote for Marine Le Pen’s party was a vote for fascism. In one unintentionally hilarious op-ed column in Le Monde in 2012, the author compared Le Pen to Adolf Hitler, although he conceded ‘she doesn’t have a moustache’.

True, a Nazi salute was seen in the National Assembly this month but it was delivered by one of Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance MPs, Rémy Rebeyrotte, who is now under parliamentary investigation. Rebeyrotte is known for taunting National Rally MPs in the Assembly with references to the Nazis, and he claims the salute was simply a sardonic retort to three ‘fachos’ (fascists) in Le Pen’s party

Rebeyrotte is not alone in his puerility. Last weekend the parliamentary president of the left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI), Mathilde Panot, likened Macron and Le Pen to the wartime Vichy Regime. Her tweet was timed to coincide with the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the mass round up of Jews in Paris. It was a fatuous statement, particular coming as it did from the LFI, who in May this year were accused by the Union of Jewish Students of France of ‘sliding towards anti-Semitism’.

All the while Le Pen and her MPs have kept their heads down and got on with the job, which one newspaper has described as their ‘institutionalisation’. ‘We’ve heard the message from the French,’ said Le Pen this week. ‘They don’t want obstruction but constructive work.’

Her party duly gave their support on Wednesday to a government ‘purchasing power’ bill even though they weren’t in complete accordance. ‘The economic situation is such that any gain in purchasing power is good to take,’ explained NR spokesman Jean-Philippe Tanguy. ‘Marine Le Pen naturally wants a constructive opposition, an opposition that shows that when voters put their trust in us, we are there to defend them.’

This is presumably the ‘collective responsibility’ Macron had in mind when he outlined his hopes for his second term in an interview last week. It was seen as a calculated presidential move, putting the onus on the opposition, so if parliament does descend into chaos he can blame the NR and the Nupes, the left-wing alliance led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

So far the Nupes are conforming to Macron’s expectations. On Thursday one of his political allies, Renaud Muselier, condemned their behaviour in the Assembly, describing them as ‘dirty, dishevelled, screaming everywhere’.

Le Pen, on the other hand, has reportedly unsettled the government with her ‘strategic intelligence’. Their greatest fear is that the NR will become a respectable party. ‘The truth is that in voting for our texts, the National Rally is giving us the kiss of death,’ one of Macron’s advisors told Le Figaro. ‘Among our ranks, some even think that the NR is in the process of becoming the new RPR’. The Rassemblement pour la République was the party of Jacques Chirac, the last president of France whose appeal cut across class and age.

In a newspaper interview last Sunday Jérôme Fourquet, one of France’s most influential political commentators, declared that ‘we can no longer rule out a NR victory in 2027’. A lot can happen between now and then, of course, and Fourquet suggested that the NR could yet be its own worst enemy.

As a result of their election success, the party will receive €10 million euros each year from the public purse, untold riches for a party that has always struggled to raise funds. Will the money be invested wisely or will the NR once more become embroiled in financial scandal? ‘If the party doesn’t manage to break with a form of amateurism and succumbs to nepotism and the distribution of bonuses to the management’s favourites it will obliterate all chances of victory,’ said Fourquet.

How the National Rally evolve in the coming years will have implications that reach beyond France. Most of the mainstream media is willing Le Pen’s party to fail, but if instead they become a credible opposition, one that stands up for the ‘Somewheres’ of this world, voters elsewhere in Europe will perhaps conclude that you shouldn’t always believe what you read in the press about the dangers of ‘populists’.

Nigel Farage is sure to be an interested observer. He was the only political figure in Britain to back Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election; it wasn’t just her Euroscepticism that won him over, but the fact she had successfully de-demonised the party she inherited from her far-right father. ‘I said Marine needed to make many fundamental changes if I was ever to work with her,’ wrote Farage in a column for the Telegraph. ‘Sure enough, she has made real changes, the biggest of which was to get rid of her own father.’

The affinity between Le Pen and Farage (he interviewed her on his radio show in 2017) is more than just ideological; both have suffered for their views over the years, enduring verbal and physical attacks.

They have also experienced failure. Farage made seven unsuccessful attempts to win a seat in the House of Commons, and before last month’s legislative election the Le Pen name was associated with political defeat. But Le Pen has proved the veracity of the old adage, ‘If at first you don’t succeed’.

Might her tenacity inspire Farage? Millions of Red Wall votes will be up for grabs in the next general election and with neither Labour or the Tories looking that interested in going after them it could be an opportune time for Farage to launch a political comeback.

If Le Pen can overcome the Hitler comparisons, why shouldn’t Farage be able to convince the British electorate that he is not Enoch Powell. He also doesn’t have a moustache.

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