Marine Le Pen’s power will grow after Paris, whatever voters do

The French establishment is on edge – if they lose control of the security situation, an unthinkable political event could be possible

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The Independent Online

Meet “le Front National”. They call their leader “our Joan of Arc”, the saintly heroine who has come to lance the Muslim peril and slay the Brussels hydra. And to her supporters, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, is the only woman who can save Paris from subjugation to German economics and the American interest: by dissolving the euro and pulling out of the military command structures of the Nato alliance.

Marine Le Pen is set to top the first round of France’s 2017 presidential elections: polls taken before the Paris attacks have her on 29 per cent of the vote. The run-off is tighter still: she would win as much as 41 per cent against rightist Nicholas Sarkozy. For the presidency, Le Pen is the opposition.

The massacre in Paris will only help Marine. Parisian polite society has been quietly muttering that 2017 was still a safe win for the centre-right: barring a major catastrophe in the eurozone or a serious terror attack. This worst- case scenario has now taken place. The French establishment is on edge – if they lose control of the security situation, an unthinkable political event could be possible.

Marine is no Farage-like farting trombone; this is what a serious party looks like, a well-oiled operation. Its presentation and rhetoric is professional. Her commitment to detoxifying the FN brand has even seen her break from her father Jean-Marie.

Right across the Continent a delayed political reaction to the financial crisis is taking place: voters, exasperated with political correctness and economic orthodoxy are abandoning entrenched, established parties. This is why Le Pen is doing so well. Her boom in the opinion polls has been in this latest wave: between 2012 and 2014. You name it. Marine’s FN is everyone’s favourite populism: anti-austerity, anti-American, anti-euro, and last but not least – an anti-immigration party.

We need only remember how far Marine looks set to outstrip her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s tally when he squeaked through to the second round of the presidential elections in 2002. He won only 18 per cent of the vote. Ever since, what the French call “the Republican majority” has been crumbling. Nervous French Muslims and Jews, who sadly seldom much agree, are increasingly asking themselves: could she win? Both communities are frightened: despite her claims about the FN, they see its supporters as racist, thuggish and reactionary. France’s minorities often point to the FN’s polling as the percentage they feel personally reject them, and their Frenchness. Growing Jewish emigration – not only to Israel, but increasingly to Britain and North America – is fuelled by this fear of dark French years ahead. 

For now, Marine in the Élysée still seems unlikely, but in politics you don’t have to win power to start winning: with this kind of polling, and this kind of terror threat, she is already setting the agenda. In calling for all estimated 10,000 extremists under French intelligence surveillance to be tagged and placed under house arrest, Sarkozy leap-frogged over Marine to criticise the state – and moved much harder right. Jihadsts – young men who dream of a “French intifada” in the infamous gritty ethnic banlieue – fantasise of more repressive, violent police as recruiters. It’s a long way to 2017. France’s troubles are only just beginning.