The National Front has lost the battle, not the war

15 December 2015 11:44 am

A week after France’s nationalist, anti-immigrant National Front party won more than 30 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of voting and led in six out of 13 French regional elections, the party drew a blank in the second round on Sunday. The National Front, in fact, failed to win control of a single region.

Party leader Marine Le Pen had been riding high after extremist attacks and an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. But in the second round, after mainstream parties formed a de facto alliance against the National Front, the party lost in all of the regions Sunday, including decisive losses for both Le Pen and her popular niece.

But then, the result wasn’t a complete disaster for the party. It tripled the number of councillors who will sit on the country’s regional assemblies, to 358, providing a potent carrier for the party’s message. And it scored a record number of votes, 6.8 million — 400,000 more than the previous record in the 2012 presidential election.

The National Front is now in a stronger position than ever before. “In relation to 2017, she is clearly positioning herself,” Valérie Igounet, a historian who specializes in the National Front told the New York Times. “The party’s “political representatives are now spreading themselves out all over France.”

The National Front lost in the north and the south because of Socialist tactics. It would surely have won had this not happened.
Indeed, in both the north and the south, the FN’s share of the vote was higher in the second round than in the first, though not high enough for a majority. The party also secured 28 per cent and first place in the first round. That’s its best-ever national result.

As The Economist says, Ms Le Pen can now play on a sense of victimhood—the ganging up of the mainstream parties against her. On Sunday night she spoke of a “campaign of calumnies and defamation decided in the gilded palaces of the Republic”.

“This will help her build support for the presidential election in 2017. The FN has lost this battle, but its political rise is far fromover.”

It’s a point summed up nicely by Time Magazine. One out of every ten French people showed up to vote FN and the decision of the centre-left and centre-right to effectively join together to prevent the FN’s rise will feed Le Pen’s narrative that there is no real difference between the mainstream French parties.

“Factoring in terrorism and the rising fears of refugees, the Front National is the only party with momentum going into the campaign season for the 2017 presidential election. Other candidates will need to draw on the FN’s messaging if they want to compete.”

Then again, a complete takeover by the National Front is unlikely. What gives the party its fiercely loyal following — its vituperative denunciation of migrants, its unconcealed hostility toward Muslims, its xenophobic “France for the French” message — also makes it an impossible partner for any political group closer to the mainstream. And that makes it harder for the party to take office.

Le Pen has lost the battle. But it’s going to be a long war.