'How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is'

IT BEGAN as the French television evening news and ended like a vulgar parody of King Lear, Act One, Scene One. Lear to Cordelia: "Mend your speech a little/Lest you may mar your fortunes." Or as Jean-Marie Le Pen put it: "I know all about family treachery. My daughter is linked with a leader of the sedition."

On Wednesday night, millions saw not only a political party but also a family ripping itself apart live on prime-time television. Mr Le Pen, president of the National Front, began by accusing Bruno Megret, the second power in his party for the past decade, of committing "crimes against France". Was the most powerful ultra-right and xenophobic force in western Europe falling apart?

Mr Le Pen went on to repudiate his own daughter, Marie-Caroline, 37. She, he said, had sided with her lover, Philippe Olivier, one of Mr Megret's lieutenants, against her old dad. Mr Le Pen, 70, putting on a sorrowful voice ("a head so old and white as this") explained: "There is a kind of natural law which carries daughters towards their husbands or lovers and away from their fathers." If this was a tragedy, Le Monde said, it was "coarse and shameless", inflicted on unsuspecting viewers.

Like King Lear, Le Pen has three daughters. Marie-Caroline, unlike Cordelia, is the eldest, and is regarded as the brightest and most politically shrewd of the three. Superficially close, they have been bitter rivals for Papa's affection and the largest share of the political and financial loot from the family business.

On Thursday, the day after her father accused her of being a silly, love- struck female, Marie-Caroline effectively resigned from the family. She accused her father of "invading my private life", subtly turned the knife in his political wound and then took a passing stab at one of her sisters.

Marie-Caroline - "Carole" to her father - confirmed that she had backed the calling of an emergency conference of NF members next month to resolve the Le Pen-Megret battle. Her father was vehemently opposed, knowing that he might lose.

Marie-Caroline explained that she had acted "neither as a daughter nor as a lover" but as "a free, woman politician, who was elected, and not nominated, to the central committee [of the NF]". The remark contains a piece of sisterly cattiness: when the NF central committee was elected last year, Mr Megret's supporters took the top positions, pushing out several Le Pen candidates; Marie-Caroline was elected in her own right but her youngest sister, Marine, 29, was not. Papa fixed it later by nominating her to a committee seat.

The middle sister, Yann, 34, is the least active politically. She is married to Samuel Marechal, head of the NF youth movement, who is one of Mr Megret's most virulent enemies, and likely to emerge as the new second force in the Le Pen wing of the French far right.

Bitchiness apart, Marie-Caroline's statement amounted to a declaration that, in her political judgment, Papa was finished. She was backing the winning side. ("How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is/To have a thankless child.")

All the sharper because Le Pen's daughters have been daddy's girls, emotionally and politically. When he broke up with their mother, Pierrette, in 1987, the sisters sided with him and savaged her (especially after she took graphic revenge on her husband by appearing as a Playboy centrefold).

Pierrette, still estranged from her daughters, claims that her former husband indoctrinated them from childhood with his paranoiac world-view. This can be encapsulated as follows: France is threatened by an international conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons. Through a devilish cocktail of European federalisation, immigration and American cultural imperialism, they are determined to destroy the French race and culture.

Whatever one's view of last week's events in the NF - almost certainly the end of the French far right as a unified force - one should not cast Marie-Caroline Le Pen and Bruno Megret as moderates. Modernisers yes; moderates never. Mr Megret's views, in private, are said to be more extreme, more ideologically racist, than Mr Le Pen's. But he believes - and presumably Marie-Caroline agrees - that the movement's goals can only be achieved by escaping from the ghetto of vulgarity and provocation created by the old man.

Mr Le Pen's internal NF difficulties began when he assaulted a Socialist woman candidate before the second round of the parliamentary elections last year. He did so while campaigning with, and for, Marie-Caroline, who went on to fail (just) to win a national assembly seat in Mantes-la- Jolie, west of Paris. In the running battle that followed, between NF supporters, leftist demonstrators and the police, I was squashed up against father and daughter for several minutes. Jean-Marie said pompously: "This is nothing to me. I was once a paratrooper in Algeria."

Marie-Caroline looked unperturbed, even bored. She just said: "Oui, Papa." With hindsight, one speculates that she was thinking: "Silly old fool. Look at all the bad publicity you're going to get us again..."

In the mood of Third World, post-coup paranoia that now reigns in the NF, Mr Le Pen accuses his eldest daughter of setting a "trap" for him in Mantes-la-Jolie. He says that she conspired with the Socialist candidate and leftist demonstrators to get Papa into trouble, as part of a plot to smooth Megret's path to power.

Le Pen has loved to pose, Lear-like, as "a man more sinned against that sinning". More appropriate, however, is a line from Act Four, Scene Six of King Lear: "Like a scurvy politician, seem/To see the things thou dost not." Or better still, Act Four, Scene Seven: "I am a very foolish, fond old man ... I fear I am not in my perfect mind."

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Colin Firth and Emma Stone star together in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Life and Style
The findings suggest that some of the genetic factors which influence birth size may play a part in influencing an infant’s mental development
health...while smaller babies have greater schizophrenia risk, study claims
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week