France's National Front: After a series of political setbacks, it seems Marine Le Pen is not so mighty as all that

 

Paris

After three years of almost unbroken success, the National Front leader Marine Le Pen has begun to stumble in her drive to steam-clean and re-brand the French far right.

Poor polling results and a series of embarrassing defections and outbreaks of grass-roots racism within her party have left Ms Le Pen facing the prospect of disappointing results in local elections in March.

The National Front still has high hopes of topping a nationwide poll for the first time in the European Parliament elections in May. So far, however, a critical year for her experiment in laundering the French far right has started badly for Ms Le Pen.

An opinion poll yesterday suggested that the National Front might capture only nine per cent of the nationwide vote in the municipal elections in March – compared to a forecast 16 per cent in September. In other polls in recent months, Ms Le Pen’s personal popularity rating has begun to slide for the first time since she replaced her father as party president almost exactly three years ago.

The polling set-backs coincide with – and are partly explained by – a series of defections by converts to “Marinism” who have stormed out of the NF complaining that the party remains racist, homophobic and amateurish. At the same time, Ms Le Pen has been forced to suspend, or dismiss, a series of NF municipal candidates who have made racist comments on blogs.

Pollsters also attribute her slide to the renewed controversy surrounding the anti-semitic black comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Marine has distanced herself from Dieudonné but he remains a friend of her father, the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Marine, 46, has attempted – in her own words – to “de-demonise” the NF by banishing outright racists from the party and abandoning the scarcely coded anti-semitic and Islam-baiting language of her father. She has moved the party towards the left on social and economic issues while campaigning strongly – UKIP-like - against immigration and the European Union.

This approach has attracted recruits from the Centre-right and from the Left – a series of whom have stormed away again in recent weeks complaining that the NF remains irredeemably racist at its core.

Marine Le Pen has distanced herself from Dieudonné Marine Le Pen has distanced herself from Dieudonné
The latest defector from the centre-right to re-defect is Vincent Morelle, 24, who days after joining the NF found himself director of the party’s election campaign in the large suburban town of Meaux, east of Paris. In an interview this week with the left-wing newspaper Libération, he said: “They have put up new curtains but, at the back of the shop, nothing has changed.”

At local party meetings, he said, members referred to the black justice minister, Christane Taubira as a “filthy monkey”. The local mayor and MP, Jean-Francois Copé – also the national president of France’s main centre-right party – is of Jewish origin. He was allegedly routinely referred to at NF meetings as “Copélovici” and the “deportation” candidate.

In November, Nadia Portheault, an NF candidate for the municipal elections in Saint-Alban near Toulouse, stormed out of the party saying that there was a “gulf between Marine’s words and a party base…which specialises in filthy jokes on Arabs and homos.” Ms Portheault is of Algerian origin.

In the same month, Anna Rosso-Roig, who had migrated from the Communist Party to become an NF municipal candidate in Marseille, resigned describing her new party as “anti-Muslim”, “brutal” and “sexist”.

The National Front has dismissed these defectors as, in effect, double agents, or triple agents, sent in by other parties to make trouble. Party officials have also minimised the importance of the dip in the opinion polls.

Marine Le Pen’s reduce popularity rating remains – at around 29 per cent – higher than President François Hollande, they point out. Jean-Marie Le Pen never climbed so high.

The collapse in the forecast score in the municipal elections is partly explained, they say, by the fact that the National Front cannot afford the money – and cannot find the candidates – to run in scores of towns. This, however, points to the limits of Ms Le Pen’s drive to remodel and “professionalise” the party.

In the European elections in May, when turnout will be low, the NF still hopes – like UKIP in Britain – to top the poll nationally. But pollsters are beginning to ask whether the popularity of Marine Le Pen, like a racehorse or athlete, has “peaked too soon”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test