Fight for the right: Sarkozy's bid to win Le Pen's people

France's far-right candidate has a new challenger: the President. John Lichfield joins her on the campaign trail in Strasbourg

Marine Le Pen yesterday tore up her presidential campaign – or at least her standard stump speech. From now on, she told a cheering audience supporters in Strasbourg, it would be "back to basics": immigration, immigration, insecurity, love of country and immigration.

The far right leader, running a strong third in the polls for this spring's French presidential, has been campaigning on a bouillabaisse of ultra-nationalist, social and leftist issues. From this week, she will face a challenge from a "new" candidate who plans to out-shout her on the unashamed themes and "values of the Right": "national identity", "order" "discipline", "family" and immigration. His name is Nicolas Sarkozy.

The president will finally enter the race this week, possibly as soon as today. He has decided that he cannot win on his achievements and certainly not on his low levels of personal popularity.

Mr Sarkozy will confront the Socialist front-runner, François Hollande, on social, economic and European policy. But his strategists have concluded that few voters understand the arcane, scary talk on deficits and debt and multibillion-euro shifts in taxes and spending.

They plan to steer the campaign onto hot-button, emotional issues where Mr Hollande can be painted (American-style) as "elitist", "arrogant", "dangerous" or "out of touch". Mr Sarkozy will propose referenda (stealing Ms Le Pen's idea) on tougher rules for immigrants and the unemployed.

He will crusade on "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" values and identity and oppose Mr Hollande's ideas for gay marriage and local votes for foreigners.

This right-wing strategy, outlined in an interview in Le Figaro on Saturday, has angered some Sarkozy supporters, and potential ones, in the centre or centre-right.

They criticised the president's approach yesterday as "dangerous" and "self-defeating" and a "surrender" of the centre ground needed to win the two-candidate, second-round, run-off on 6 May.

But the president, running second in the opinion polls, a few points ahead of Ms Le Pen, is still not certain of even reaching the second round. His primary focus appears to be the first round on 22 April – and Ms Le Pen.

The President plans to appeal in the next nine weeks mostly to the socially conservative blue-collar electorate and the older, catholic, traditionalist middle classes which supported him strongly in 2007. Both have been infuriated by the President's zig-zag policies and his vain and self-regarding presidential style – or lack of style.

Elements of both electorates are tempted by the disinfected brand of far right politics offered by Marine Le Pen, 43. At her rally in yesterday, she displayed many of the changes of style and tone introduced since she succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 83, as president of the National Front last year.

Jean-Marie used to crank up mass emotion like an American TV preacher; Marine is subtler, like a chat-show host. Jean-Marie adored dramatic light shows and martial music.

Marine goes for gentler tunes and softer lights. She generates fervour rather than hysteria. Her audience is younger than her father's and more feminine. Skin-heads are scarce, though not completely eliminated.

But Ms Le Pen made it clear yesterday that she knew that she had to revert to the NF "golden oldie" themes of migration and national identity to fight off the President and preserve, or expand, her predicted 18 to 20 per cent of the first round vote.

She accused Mr Sarkozy of talking a big game on immigration and security for ten years, as interior minister and President, but doing nothing in office. "Now he wants to pull the same trick,"she said. "He's not a recidivist. He's a multirecidivist."

Ms Le Pen predicted that the press would accuse her of falling back, in her Strasbourg speech, on "fundamentalist" NF themes. In previous campaign appearances she has stressed "social" issues such as unemployment, low wages and her plans to pull France out of the Euro and maybe the EU.

She did not abandon those themes yesterday. "The Greeks are living through your future," she said to loud cheers. But 90 per cent of her speech was devoted to immigration, just like in the good-old-bad-old days of papa. Since she became president in 2010, Ms Le Pen has moderated the language of the NF; she has cut out the coded appeals to racism and anti-semitism; she has purged the party so energetically that her nickname amongst diehards is "le pit-bull blonde".

The purges partly explain her failure – so far – to gather the 500 signatures of elected officials that she needs to reach the second round ballot paper. The NF has lost many of the wily activists who knew how to drum up sponsorship from village and small town mayors.

Even her father has been "purged". Although he is the NF president-for-life, Jean-Marine Le Pen has scarcely featured in the campaign. Marine has, in a sense, "UKIPised" the National Front, making it more mainstream, more intellectually disciplined and morally respectable. Many of her policy positions – anti-EU; tough on crime; taking legal brakes off the police; crackdowns on immigration and welfare cheats – could be approved by the right wing of the Conservative Party.

However, Marine Le Pen has also shifted away from two NF founding tribes, the anti-government, small shop-keeping middle classes; and the Vichy nostalgics and royalist anti-Republicans.

Many of her social and economic policies – annual minimum wage rises tied to inflation; defence of France's secular, Republican traditions; increased power for the central state – could come from the song-sheet of the Left or even the hard Left. The strategy has worked, up to a point. Her new support is largely from the white working class.

Her party is now the most popular in France among blue-collar workers. But the "marinist" swing to the "left" has been observed with great care by Nicolas Sarkozy and his team.

By failing to play tunes on the old Lepennist keys of family, religion, race and populist anti-statism she has, they believe, dangerously exposed her right flank. On some themes, Mr Sarkozy hopes to run to the right of the National Front.

Nicolas Sarkozy

President Sarkozy is eyeing a US-style campaign, rooted in "values" such as "work" and "responsibility", according to an interview at the weekend. In it he says...

* He promises rules to force the unemployed to accept jobs or re-training. A referendum would be called – borrowing a National Front idea – if the changes were blocked.

* He would block any legal move towards euthanasia.

* He would oppose marriage or marriage-like contracts for homosexuals (something that he supported in 2007).

* He promised a constitutional change to make it easier to expel illegal immigrants and failed asylum-seekers. He called for stricter surveillance of legally resident foreigners and opposed votes for foreigners in local elections.

Marine le Pen

As President Sarkozy readies to launch his campaign, and Marine Le Pen attempts to reinvigorate her base, she remains a more moderate-sounding leader than her father, Jean-Marine.

* Since taking over the reins of the party two years ago, Ms Le Pen has toned down the party's language. Coded appeals to racism, for example, have been consigned to history.

* She has moved away from two key National Front constituencies: the anti-government, small shop-keeping middle classes and the Vichy nostalgics.

* Parts of her policy portfolio remain leftish, including plans for annual minimum wage rises tied to inflation and increased power for the central. She is also a defender of France's secular and Republican heritage.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
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

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick