Civil war rips apart Le Pen's party

JEAN-MARIE Le Pen's National Front imploded yesterday. The most successful far-right party in Western Europe, a baleful force on the French and European political landscape for 14 years, ceased to exist as a unified movement.

Amid vicious recrimination, in which Mr Le Pen accused one of his daughters of "family betrayal", the NF broke into two mutually loathing factions, each claiming to be the true standard-bearer of the French ultra-right. Ending weeks of clandestine civil war, Mr Le Pen, 70, finally moved directly against Bruno Megret, the increasingly powerful second force in the Front. He suspended him from his job as delegate-general of the party and accused him of "crimes against the NF and against France". He also repeated on national television his accusation that Mr Megret's supporters were "racists" and "extremists", in effect conceding something he has always denied: that the NF feeds on racial bigotry.

Mr Megret, 49, who represents a more managerial, modernising as well as deeply xenophobic force in the NF, refused to accept his dismissal. He will go ahead with plans to call an emergency conference next month when those who attend will, doubtless, elect him as president of a kind of Provisional Wing of the NF.

Mr Le Pen, NF president since its creation in 1972, remains in control of party headquarters in the Paris suburb of St-Cloud, from which all Megret supporters were ejected on Wednesday night. But Mr Megret claims, perhaps with some exaggeration, to have the backing of more than half the local and regional bodies of the party and substantial support among grassroots NF voters.

He may also have a lot of dirt on Mr Le Pen, who was reported to be alarmed to discover Megret sympathisers had been downloading information from the St-Cloud computers in recent days. Mr Le Pen had ordered all NF bank accounts to be frozen two days ago. The opaque finances of the Front and the sources of his lavish lifestyle have always been mysteriously entwined.

The Le Pen-Megret show-down, long expected, is partly generational, partly tactical. It is also a question of personal ambitions and clan hatreds within the Front, which has always been an extraordinary coalition of antagonistic groups (high Catholics, pagans, Vichy sympathisers, colonial nostalgics, extreme nationalists, Europhobes and outright racists). Mr Megret supporters, mostly young or middle-aged, believe they can release the party from the ideological ghetto created by Mr Le Pen and form electoral alliances that would bring far-right ideas, and themselves, into the mainstream of French politics and government. Mr Le Pen and his supporters, including most of the old guard but also many younger activists, accuse the Megretistes of being prepared to trade the party's ideological purely for a few cabinet posts.

Most of all, perhaps, the struggle is about Mr Le Pen's refusal to accept he is growing old and that the success and growth of the NF mean it is no longer his personal fiefdom. The schism cuts through the heart of his family. On television on Wednesday he accused Marie-Caroline, the eldest of his three daughters, of "betraying her family" by being linked to "one of the leaders of sedition". She lives with one of Mr Megret's lieutenants, Philippe Olivier, and has tended towards the Megret side in recent days.

There is bitter irony here. The internal crisis in the NF began when Mr Le Pen was suspended from seeking public office because of his assault on a socialist female candidate during last year's parliamentary elections. "Papa" was campaigning for, and alongside, Marie-Caroline at the time.

Is this the end of the National Front? Should all democrats and anti- racists rejoice? No and yes. The far right is a rooted presence in the political psyche of France; its strength has tended, however, to wax and wane with internal splits and quarrels. This week's events may well mark the start of the end of the Le Pen era and halt the slow rise of far-right influence, which began with Mr Le Pen's big breakthrough in the European elections of 1984.

He remains the single most compelling figure of the ultra right and one of the country's few charismatic politicians. He will continue to command a large share of ultra-right votes. But a long period of internecine warfare with Mr Megret will rob him of his image as a man of the people. The effect is likely to be a collapse of the overall far-right vote - up to 15 per cent in recent elections - as non-militant fringe voters drift back to the centre-right and even the Communists. This would transform the French political landscape and, above all, revive the fortunes of President Jacques Chirac and the centre-right.

Mr Megret's chances of building a successful counter-movement are uncertain. He is a highly intelligent, subtle and presentable politician. But he has none of Mr Le Pen's vulgar humour or rumbustious charm. His only chances of success would seem to be to deliver a knock-out blow against Mr Le Pen, possibly with some startling revelation about the NF's finances or wider neo-fascist European connections.

In the past month Mr Le Pen has been waging a campaign of harassment against Mr Megret and his supporters, stripping them of responsibilities, even firing several people who worked with Mr Megret on spurious cost- cutting grounds. Last weekend Mr Megret struck back. He managed to smuggle his fired and suspended supporters into a meeting of the NF national council. To Mr Le Pen's astonishment, their presence was applauded by a majority of those present. When he ordered them to be ejected from the hall, Mr Le Pen was booed and heckled.

This week harassment became a purge, with Mr Le Pen striding the corridors of NF headquarters, suspending or ejecting officials he suspected of pro-Mr Megret sympathies. On Wednesday Mr Megret made what amounted to a first, frontal attack on Le Pen's authority, backing his supporters' calls for an extraordinary congress of the party next month to resolve the quarrel.

Mr Le Pen had already made clear that anyone who backed such a congress would be regarded as an enemy of the party. Later that night he suspended Mr Megret from his job as delegate-general. Calling for such a meeting was "a crime against the NF and above all a crime against France".

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past