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Home Opinion Marine Le Pen is opening up a new front in France

Marine Le Pen is opening up a new front in France

Laurent Bouvet - 01 February 2011

Could this be the time of the "Peste blonde" (blond pest), as she was referred to in this month's issue of Causeur magazine?

While many commentators are quick to point out that Marine Le Pen is only her father's daughter, and that nothing fundamental will change within the Front national (FN), her election as party president has already given rise to more concern than reassurance.

The discourse remains focused on a protest against the elite, Europe and immigration. Le Pen's populism is still a nationalism that thrives on scapegoats, using hackneyed methods.

So in many ways Marine Le Pen plays the same old extreme right-wing song as her father, with any changes to the tune taking place on the fringes. Yet, these changes have been enough to allow her to grab attention and, more importantly, to increase her audience and (who knows?) her future voters. It is therefore important to look precisely at the changes she is introducing.

Firstly, Le Pen is continuing to implement changes that she started some years ago in gradually shifting the party's economic and social rhetoric towards... the left! This occurred surreptitiously at first, particularly on her local regional and town council testing grounds, but it is on view much more openly of late. In an interview with Causeur she stated: "Every time an activity is transferred from the public to the private sector, the result is detrimental to equality and prices soar. I am therefore in favour of entrusting the public sector with transport, education, healthcare, the banks and the elderly. And I am also in favour of state intervention in strategic areas such as energy, communications, telecommunications and the media. I am also considering a fiscal revolution that would notably re-balance capital and labour". She has added, for the greater benefit of the lower and middle classes, to an economic and social discourse that is anti-globalisation, anti-euro and anti-capitalist – something the radical left would hardly reject.

However, it is in another area that Marine Le Pen has broken away from her father, namely moral and cultural values. In fact, she has been contending for some time that FN is not only the foremost bastion of secularity and the Republic, but also of so-called post-materialist individual rights (e.g. those of women and homosexuals) against Islam and its laws, practices and, especially, against its believers.

By stepping into the breach opened up a few years ago by Dutchman Pym Fortuyn, Marine Le Pen has seized upon the ambiguities of the multiculturalist ideal that has been establishing a foothold in European society for some thirty years, the common denominator being to champion – politically, socially and culturally – the cause of people commonly referred to as the "minorities" (namely women, homosexuals and immigrants) and the "visible minorities” (ethno-racial or religious, for example).

By tossing aside the old family-based model of the extreme right, and by breaking the multiculturalist link uniting minorities of all origins, Marine Le Pen has endowed herself, in order to defend women and homosexuals against Muslims, with the means to appeal to new groups and new social categories over and beyond FN's customary electorate. If she is successful in expanding her parties electoral appeal on the basis of these issues she could well be a threat to mainstream parties, especially on the left.

The left has already lost large chunks of its traditional working class voters – though more to abstention than to the FN – and can ill afford to lose much more of its electorate, especially on issues such as the rights of women and homosexuals or the Republic and secularity. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the left, still eager to govern the country on a durable basis, can afford not to rethink its multiculturalist ideal; how to reconcile, in short, an almost natural and much-heralded inclination to fully respect ‘diversity’ with its deep-rooted attachment to the defence and broadening of individual rights.

A contribution to the State of the Left, a monthly insight report from Policy Network's Social Democracy Observatory

Laurent Bouvet is professor of political science at the University of Nice and adjunct professor of public philosophy at Sciences Po (Paris). He is also director of the Observatory of Social Democracy at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in Paris

This is a contribution to Policy Network's work on Globalisation and Governance.

Comments

Sheila
07 June 2012 09:25

Paidia sugxaritira giatuo pou exete ftikasei!!! Einai polu kalo! Thelo na sas po oti auto to examino exo mia ptuxiaki pou afora to mashup kai xreiazetai na ftiakso mia efarmogi pano se auto Tha ithela na me voithisete kai na me enimerosete me tin proti eukairia ti xreiazomai na kano gia na ftiakso mia tetoia efarmogi

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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