France was spellbound on Monday by a spectacular public row between the Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen and her father, Jean-Marie, the party’s founder, over apparent anti-Semitism.
In a radio interview, Mr Le Pen, 85, accused his daughter of making a “mistake” by “aligning” the far-right party with “conventional political thinking”. He said that Marine’s wider movement – the Rassemblement Bleu Marine, which includes nationalist but anti-racist FN sympathisers – was “bizarre and incoherent”.
Earlier, Marine Le Pen, who has tried to clean up the party since she became leader three years ago, had taken the unprecedented step of taking her father to task. She described as a “political mistake” an apparently anti-Semitic and Holocaust-mocking jibe made by Mr Le Pen, the party’s honorary president for life, on the FN website.
A fortnight after the European elections, in which Ms Le Pen, 45, took the party to its first victory in a nationwide poll, relations between father and would-be “moderate” daughter appear to have hit the rocks. Asked live on radio whether he had fallen out with the youngest of his three daughters, Mr Le Pen harrumphed: “Mmm… No comment.”
In pictures: Extremists in the EU
In pictures: Extremists in the EU
1/6 France: Marine le Pen
Marine Le Pen, 45, took over the Front National (FN), the party that her father founded, in 2011. He himself described her as “a big, healthy, blonde girl, an ideal physical specimen." She claims to have cleaned up the FN and succeeded in pushing her anti-European, anti-euro and anti-immigration agenda into the EU political mainstream
2/6 Germany: Udo Voigt
He will be the first German neo-Nazi to enter the European Parliament. The former army officer, born in 1952, was jailed in 1995 for inciting racial hatred. Formerly the leader of the far right National Democratic Party (NPD), Voigt was convicted in 2009 after he was caught handing out flyers at the World Cup which argued that a black player was not entitled to play for Germany, whose national team – the literature argued – should be made up only of white players.
3/6 Denmark: Morten Messerschmidt
Leader of the Danish People’s Party, which won 27 per cent of the vote. His party has rammed 20 laws relating to immigrants and asylum-seekers through the Danish parliament, giving it the most anti-foreigner legislation in Europe. His party calls Islam “a fascist ideology” and rails against “East European criminal gangs”. One party strategist said “blood ties” to Denmark should be required for citizenship, though the statement was quickly retracted.
4/6 Hungary: Krisztina Morvai
A senior member of Jobbik, the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party on Hungary’s far right wing. In 2009, she attracted international publicity after declaring: “So-called proud Hungarian Jews should go back to playing with their little circumcised dicks.” In 2009, she cancelled an interview with a British newspaper, declaring in tones of outrage: “I am a decent politician and the mother of three children, yet you in the west keep portraying me as a Nazi and a Fascist.”
5/6 Italy: Mario Borghezio
MEP for Italy’s notoriously racist Northern League, he has relentlessly attacked the nation’s first black cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, minister for integration, claiming she would import ‘tribal traditions’ into the Italian government. Other elected members in the party called her “an orang-utan” and suggested that someone should rape her, so she would understand how the victims of Somali rapists felt. He attracted attention by lobbying for the creation of an EU archive of UFO sightings.
6/6 Greece: Eleftherios Synadinos
Fabulously mustachioed retired lieutenant-general in the Greek army, he was one of Golden Dawn’s top candidates in the European elections, at which the overtly neo-Nazi party obtained more than 9 per cent of the vote. With its black-shirted assault squads, the Hitler photos and the party’s swastika-inspired logo, it has been accused of being a criminal organisation. Its website declares: “We aren’t the quiet birds of peace time, we are birds of the storm and the hurricane.”
In a video diary on the party’s website at the weekend, Mr Le Pen said that he wanted to make a “fournée” – which can refer to a “baker’s oven” or “batch”, but in the context of the remarks suggests an “oven” or an “ovenful” – of the anti-FN, Jewish pop singer and actor Patrick Bruel.
In his interview with Radio Monte Carlo on Monday, Mr Le Pen insisted that there was nothing “remotely” anti-Semitic in this remark. Critics said that the phrase was clearly intended as a joking reference to the Nazis’ burning of Jewish bodies in death camps during the Second World War. Mr Le Pen has previous convictions for inciting racial hatred.
Two French anti-racist organisations have announced that they intend to bring a new legal case against Mr Le Pen for anti-Semitism and mocking the Holocaust.
Marine Le Pen said that her father’s comments had been “deliberately misinterpreted” but he had committed a “political mistake” in using such a loaded word.
Previously, the deputy head of the FN, Louis Aliot, had described Mr Le Pen’s remarks as “stupid and disturbing”. Mr Le Pen dismissed Mr Aliot – who is his daughter’s romantic partner as well as the party’s No 2 – as an “imbecile”.
Although there have been reports of growing tension between father and daughter, they have never previously attacked each other in public. Mr Le Pen’s diatribe on Monday made him sound like a latter-day King Lear – a man who bequeathed his kingdom to his daughter and then regretted it.
Mr Le Pen said that the “new FN leadership” – in other words, Marine and allies – “want to be just like other political parties. If that’s what they want, they have succeeded. But it’s they who are making a political mistake not me.”
Political commentators in France were divided yesterday about the significance of the row. The respected centre-left newspaper Le Monde said that Mr Le Pen had damaged his daughter’s hopes of seriously challenging for the French presidency in 2017. He had torn away her cloak of respectability and “exposed the party’s origins” and its “radical far-right core”.
The right-wing newspaper Le Figaro said that Mr Le Pen might unwillingly have done his daughter a political favour. He had given her an opportunity to emerge as the “true boss of the party” and reject her father’s extremist and “backward-looking” legacy.
Other FN-watchers said that the consequences of the bust-up would be more complex. Jean-Marie Le Pen was a sincere extremist who had always preferred to be “pure” rather than compromise in the pursuit of power.
Marine Le Pen had been revealed as a politician like any other, prepared to do what was necessary to win. This might please some voters but would anger many FN diehards.