The Le Pen family's battle for the soul of France's far right Front National party

Jean-Marie Le Pen's loathsome remarks in a magazine interview have put his daughter Marine's leadership on notice

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The Independent Online

In King Lear, in Act II, Regan rudely says to her old dad: “O, sir, you are old; nature in you stands on the very verge of her confine: you should be ruled and led by some discretion.”

On TF1 News, last week, Marine Le Pen rudely said of her old dad: “Jean-Marie Le Pen should show some good sense and draw the appropriate conclusion from the trouble he has himself created and perhaps end all his political activities.”

Jean-Marie, 86, a patriarch who, in this instance, gave up his kingdom to one daughter rather than two, will suffer a Lear-like humiliation in Nanterre, just west of Paris, this week.

He will be dragged before the political bureau of the Front National, the far right party he created. He will be punished for repeating in a magazine interview the loathsome things he has said before.

To paraphrase him: the Vichy regime, Nazi collaborators from 1940 to 1944, were not traitors; the Nazi gas chambers were a mere detail of history; the white race which sprang from the “northern forests” is fighting for survival; and democracy is a threat to the deep racial and cultural well-springs of the French nation.

 

This kind of thing used to be cheered at FN meetings and fill long pseudo-scientific pamphlets at FN headquarters. In Marine Le Pen’s bright, new, spring-cleaned and power-hungry FN, such ideas are heresy. Many FN members may still believe, but it’s an offence to go public.

There are two ways of looking at the struggle for the dark soul of the FN. Marine Le Pen, who has long known that such a showdown was inevitable, has symbolically to kill her father to push on to the next stage of her plans to “de-demonise” the FN and give the party – and herself – a genuine chance of ruling France some time in the next decade.

There is, however, another interpretation of events. Jean-Marie may be 86, but he’s not senile. He knew exactly what he was doing. Even choosing to speak to the ultra-right, anti-Semitic Rivarol magazine was a deliberate provocation. The magazine believes Marine is a traitor to patriotic and racial values.

Jean-Marie’s interview may have seemed rambling, but it touched all the buttons of ultra-right-wing tribal identity. Le Pen Snr is deeply committed to the past. He was saying, in effect: “We must remember who we are or we will be swallowed up by the things we detest – both racially and politically.”

On the other hand, Marine Le Pen, who is committed to the future, believes that what her father stands for can only be smuggled into mainstream politics if the FN stops reminding people of what it really is.

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The Front National looks set to do well in France thanks to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s hardline granddaughter Marion (Getty)

On TV last week, Jean-Marie accused his daughter of “surrendering to the system” and “dynamiting” the movement he created four decades ago. If punished this week, he said, “I will defend myself and I will probably attack”. In other words, he is ready to split the movement.

It is uncertain how many troops Jean-Marie Le Pen can still command, and a poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion suggested 67 per cent of FN supporters would like to see him dropped by the party.

Jean-Marie’s granddaughter and Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, shares his views on many questions, including his hatred of the “marinist” FN’s lurch to the left on economic policy. Marion is only 25. She is emotionally close to her grand-dad whom she calls “daddy” (in English). She had distanced herself from some of his rehashed extremism in recent days – but not all. She would prefer to bide her time, but she may yet be forced to take sides.

Far from rejoicing at events, Marine Le Pen might be forced to reflect on the last, corpse-strewn scene of King Lear. “Our present business is general woe.”

Financial queries

The Front National’s president, Marine Le Pen, faces an investigation over allegations of illegal financing of her political campaigns in 2011 and 2012, Le Monde has reported

In the midst of her quarrel with her father, Ms Le Pen faces the embarrassment of possibly being summonsed.

Among other things, there are allegations that Ms Le Pen’s vehicle for campaign financing – a “micro-party” called Jeanne – charged FN candidates six times the market rate for “kits” of election materials in 2012. The full amount was then reclaimed by the candidates from public funds set aside for campaign financing.

It is alleged that the profits were then ploughed back into other party activities or enriched a publicity company run by a friend of Ms Le Pen.

Senior FN officials dismissed the allegations as an “operation to destabilise the FN and its leaders”.

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