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The French Regional Elections: the Gang of Three

Paris.

The Front National of Jean-Marie [Le Pen père] used to denounce the ‘gang of four’ (1). The Front National of Marine [Le Pen fille] is part of the gang of three and serves as a side door for the other two. The oligarchy still commands the future.

This time, it’s certain. They have learned the lesson! On the Right as on the Left they have been shaken by the Frontist gale (2) and they promise to change their ways.

On the evening of 13 December, the oligarchies of the Right and of the Left flaunt their gravitas, their modesty and their high-minded resolve. Manuel Valls promises to bring to the French “the proof that politics will not carry on as beforehand”. Nicolas Sarkozy affirms that it is time to “confront fundamentally the big issues”. Alain Juppé [former Prime Minister under Chirac and Minister under Sarkozy] is determined to bring “appropriate responses to the genuine expectations of the French”. Xavier Bertrand swears that he will refashion the way he does politics.

On the morning of 14 December, readers of the dailies find however an unchanged political chessboard on which the 2017 Presidential election is the main game. Nothing changes. The Presidential election is decisive, whereas the departmental and regional elections are only strategic plays for the rank and file of the three major national political parties. The idea of decentralization is dead, if indeed it has ever been taken seriously by the Parisian party HQs.

Nothing has changed on the Right. Since the failed return of Nicolas Sarkozy, the personal ambitions have been unleashed. The former president [of the UMP, renamed Les Républicains, LR] Alain Juppé and François Fillon [Prime Minister under Sarkozy] clash sharply. Xavier Bertrand, Laurent Wauquiez, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet [variously Deputies, Party heavies and pretenders, with Bertrand and Wauquiez elected to presidencies in the just conducted regional elections] will seek their chance sooner or later.

Nothing has changed on the Left. The object is to gather as large a grouping as possible (3) around François Hollande – should he find himself trailing Marine Le Pen in the first round he will beat her in the second round by harnessing the ‘Republican front’ strategy which has been drummed up for the regional elections.

Nothing changes because nothing is permitted to change. No matter what is said about the impoverished regions or people living on the margin, the oligarchs will remain committed to the neoliberal norms decreed by Brussels and enforced by Berlin. In the face of anger and despair of innumerable citizens, they will advance new programs of ultraliberal reforms.

Why would they renounce this competition in submission and cynicism given that the Front National (FN) is integrated within the gang of three, serving as foil [for the big two]?

For the oligarchic factions of Right and Left, the lesson of the second round is in fact reassuring: given the Frontist threat, electors have mobilized in sufficient numbers to ensure, even if reluctantly, the victory in the regions of a ‘Republican’ or of a ‘Socialist’. This scenario will be reproduced in 2017. Even if the National Front collects in the first round 30 – 40% of the votes, it will lose the fight since it lacks allies and will continue to frighten 30 to 40% of the voters. Fear is the oligarchies’ only weapon but it works.

In participating in every election to win numerous seats at the departmental and regional levels, the FN has accumulated victories but the gains are made within local systems over which it has no control. This is a cozy situation in which the Front is trying to insinuate itself, but at the risk of letting itself be corrupted – a likely outcome given the scrappy Party apparatus.

Given that the FN is a component in a national game that it is not able to master, Marine Le Pen will remain the ‘coupon clipper of discontent’ [la rentière du Malheur in the original] (4) in 2017 and after, save for any seismic upheaval that she could well exploit with political finesse.

Contrary to what is being proclaimed loud and clear, the ‘Republicans’ and the “Socialists’ have no need to change direction: they can limit themselves to continue to instrumentalize LePenism. It is the FN that needs to look in the mirror.

Located in the centre of her Party, between Florian Philippot to her left and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen to her right, Marine Le Pen currently pulls all possible advantages from her privileged position.

But her catch-all Party can never be a political rallying force if it prefers to play wedge politics on potential ethno-religious conflict. My prediction is that Marine Le Pen will decline to choose between national unity and identity politics in order to avoid losing any component of her current electoral support. (5)

Translated by Evan Jones.

Translator’s notes:

(1) In 1989 Jean-Marie Le Pen railed against the then four major political parties as a ‘gang of four’, effectively all being much of a muchness – the Parti Socialiste, Rassemblement pour la République, Parti communiste français and Union pour la démocratie française.

(2) At the first round of the regional elections on 6 December, the Front National’s candidate placed first in 6 of the 13 new amalgamated regions, and garnered 28% of the vote nationally (from a voter turnout of 50%).

(3) Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, Deputy and First Secretary of the Parti Socialiste, has been charged with forging ‘l’unité du gauche’. The real object is to prevent the appearance of left-wing and ecolo candidates on the first round of the Presidential ballot in 2017, to get the wretched Hollande into the second round. The PS is haunted by the 2002 elections, in which then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was just tipped out of second place in the first round by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Cambadélis also recently waxed hot and cold regarding a ‘front républicain’ with LR to marginalize the National Front at the regionals, but faced resistance from the LR. Cambadélis’ stratagem is realpolitik writ large, but one has to be thick-skinned for this project as the Hollande agenda has nothing left wing or Republican about it. The consistency of the mentality of Cambadélis (a Deputy from Paris since 1997) is evidenced by his 2006 proposal to unify the PS and leftists via a renovated ‘social democracy’ to be forged under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (ahem!). Fortunately, the 2011 Sofitel incident ended the farce of this latter’s political pretensions.

(4) The phrase was coined by political scientist Gaël Brustier in October 2011 with respect to the Le Pen family.

(5) An informative analysis of the regional character of the FN’s electoral support appears in December’s French edition of Le Monde Diplomatique (subscriber only). FN voters are unified (and distinguishable) on the priority given to the migration question. However, the LMD article distinguishes three regional blocs. In the West and South-West, where the FN fares least well, FN voters are more typically petit bourgeois and middling white collar workers. In the South-East, original stamping ground of the FN, the bloc now extending into the South-West’s Garonne Valley, the FN attracts cross-class support from those in the private sector and the petit bourgeoisie but also those with precarious incomes or in sectors ‘fragilized’ by globalization and heavily dependent on tourism. In the North (experiencing decades of deindustrialization) and North-East, there is worker support but particularly support from the ‘precarious’ outside the workplace (the ‘inactivs’) – retirees, housewives and students. The FN’s policy agenda, previously highly centralized in Paris, is now subject to internal tension. In the first instance, this tension is driven by felt pressure to cater to the particularities of electoral support in each area but there is a push (‘néofrontiste’) to elevate the social-populist agenda in order to enhance the FN’s potential status as a representative party at the national level.

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Bertrand Renouvin is the founder of Nouvelle Action Royaliste. He edits the NAR’s bi-monthly Royaliste and blogs at bertrand-renouvin.fr, where this article appeared on 15 December.

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