After many centuries of political resignations, Marine Le Pen’s may be unique. Leaders have given up the job for reasons including criminality, alcoholism, rank unpopularity, ill health, sexual transgressions, and, in the case of that habitual quitter Nigel Farage (of whom more below), because there was a vowel in the month, a “Y” in the day, or a horse called “Give It Up Nige” in the 4.15 at Uttoxeter.
But never, so far as I know, has a leader resigned within hours of taking their party to its best ever election result. A day after emulating her adorable father Jean-Marie by reaching the France presidential run-off, but having won a million more votes than the old sweetheart did in 2002, Marine jacked in the leadership of the Front National (albeit her choice of verb hinted it will be temporary) for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
Her version is that she wants to rid herself from the shackles of party association, and soar above any partisan considerations. Which makes perfect sense when what has taken her this far are such glaringly unpartisan considerations as bullying Muslims and disguising nationalism as patriotism.
Alternatively, you could see it as a desperate last throw of the dice. With her centrist opponent Emmanuel Macron crushing her by almost two to one in the polls, she needs to roll a double six in the hope that a sudden amnesia pandemic will wipe the memories of about 15 million voters of almost everything she’s been saying for years.
A third theory, which being mine alone is almost certainly cobblers, is that Farage put her up to it. After Brexit and his sparkling cameo as Hero Sycophant No 11 in Donald Trump’s rise, Nigel has a global reputation as the hard right’s seer of seers. So if he told Marine that resigning is jolly good fun and seldom permanent, and never did his mavericky lowest-common-denominator appeal any harm, how could she have resisted his froggish charms.
Farage, if no one else, is suffering from amnesia. In 2014, when he found Marine’s opinions too spicy even for his iron stomach, he ruled out any Ukip alliance with the French NF. After three more years of the same, froggy went a courtin’ to Paris, whence last month he tweeted a snap of himself and Marine. Now he tells a US radio host that she has detoxified her movement of its racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
Her resignation implies that, privately at least, she disagrees with him about that, although neither her campaign pledge to close mosques nor her continuing opposition to gay marriage are going anywhere.
Also disagreeing with Farage (with the ritual caveat about the reliability of opinion polls) is a thumping majority of the French public. Macron, a onetime socialist who wants open borders and more EU integration, appears to be heading for a landslide. The only defeated rival not backing him is the candidate of the far left (he must be dead jealous of Jeremy Corbyn, whose Communist Party endorsement will do so much to allay middle England’s concerns).
But even the narrowest Macron win would be a hugely welcome bucking of the Brexit-Trump trend we all feared could sweep the democratic world.
If he does become President, cementing the EU by establishing that Europe’s Atlantic seaboard has room for only the one idiot country, it will do more than slow the march of barbarism. It will remind us that Anglo-French differences go far beyond perceptions of the EU.
It will also confirm that the French are incomparably more sophisticated. They couldn’t give a toss that Macron met his wife Brigitte when he was 15, and she was a 40-year-old teacher (married with three kids, one older than Macron) at his Jesuit school.
Although they didn’t openly become a couple until he turned 18, and only married 10 years ago, he proposed at 16. That Emmanuel (now 39) and Brigitte (64) are still together more than 20 years later strikes me as pretty amazing. More amazing, here in petty bourgeois England, is that despite that narrative they are on the verge of entering the Élysée Palace.
In the English-speaking world, any such love story would at best be comically absurd (see the Friends subplot about teenage Phoebe’s half-brother Frank falling for his middle-aged teacher) and at worst deeply scandalous. Either way, it would be lethal to a political career.
If an Englishman with such a romantic history ran for office, the tabloids would stigmatise him as an Oedipal weirdo. He wouldn’t have a prayer of being elected to even as eccentric a parish council as Dibley’s.
So God love the French for understanding the human heart for the endlessly complex and quixotic organ it is. And God spare their Gallic bones if and when they reject the poisonous race-baiting from which neither her old efforts at sugaring the strychnine nor this cosmetic resignation seem able to distance the once and future Queen Marine of the Front National.Reuse content