Sparks fly between Jean-Marie Le Pen and his 'moderate' daughter Marine after 'oven' comment
John Lichfield has been The Independent's man in Paris since 1997, covering French news. Before that, he was the paper's Foreign Editor and he has also worked in Brussels and Washington. In 1999, he was the UK press Awards Foreign Reporter of the year.
Monday 09 June 2014
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 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.
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