It was an unfortunate photograph. Marine Le Pen with her right arm outstretched, palm flat in a very familiar salutation from the 1930s. It wasn’t her fault, as she really isn’t a fascist – just another unpleasant European right winger whose political life has been spent playing anti-immigration, anti-European and anti-Muslim tunes.
But she will not become president of France and she is not Donald Trump. If anything she is France’s Hilary Clinton – a competent female politician who has been around a long time but has little fresh appeal to enthuse voters beyond the party faithful.
They have a core electorate of around 25 per cent of the French population, but it comes to a dead stop there. It is roughly identical to the loyal electorate the Parti communiste francais (PCF) could count on for the first 25 years after the end of World War Two.
In fact, with the collapse of communism, it appears at times that the PCF vote of unhappy workers – bitter, unemployed, poorly paid public sector or agricultural workers and a number of the ideologically driven nation-first bourgeoisie – have moved lock, stock and barrel from Communism to Frontism.
The French Communist Party was racist and hostile to European workers coming into France, fanatically anti-Brussels, and blamed all of France’s ills on US-led western capitalism which today we call globalisation.
It was able to win town halls, have a solid block of deputies in the French National Assembly, just as the Front does, and even some ministers after 1945 and briefly after 1981 – but the Elysée never came within its grasp.
So it will be with Marine. She has flipped-flopped on so many issues that she makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a model of consistency. She was for the restoration of the death penalty – now she is against. She was strongly anti-gay but her chief lieutenant is gay so that has gone. She wanted the immediate restoration of the French franc but every opinion polls shows the French are attached to the Euro and know the Euro makes cross-frontier business with all France’s neighbours much easier – so she has gone soft on that too.
She has African and Muslim candidates on her candidates’ list, so cannot be as overtly racist as her father was. Nigel Farage, in his charming manner, reportedly said that while he thought Marine Le Pen wanted to sleep with him, he could never associate UKIP with her party because “anti-Semitism was too deeply embedded in it”. She exploded in a fit of anti-Nigel anger and there is no doubt she has tried to purge anti-Semitism from the Front.
But the sulphur on the question of anti-Semitism still emerges from time to time from her father’s nostrils when he gets carried away. Journalists and researchers in France who have dug deep into Front membership report that the old prejudices lie not far below the smoother surface Marine has tried to polish to appear more acceptable amongst voters.
She does share with Trump an admiration for Putin but the Kremlin knows she will not become president and Putin has cut her funding from Russian banks.
She is no longer the new kid on the presidential block: that title belongs to Emmanuel Macron. Either Macron, or – if the French centre-right, Les Républicains, finds an adequate replacement for the François Fillon (stand by for tomorrow’s Canard Enchainé) – the new centre-right candidate will go into the second round with Marine and then win the presidency.
The only way this will change is if the left candidates – the Socialist Party’s Benoit Hamon and the independent leftist Jean-Luc Mélanchon – unite, with one dropping out before the first round. A hard-left candidate against Marine Le Pen in the second round gives her a much better chance.
Donald Trump’s statements and acts since entering the White House have done serious damage to Europe’s alt-right nationalists like Marine Le Pen. They are undoubtedly fascinating and exotic for journalists from outside France but Marine will now keep her right arm firmly glued to her side. The second Le Pen to aim for the Elysée won’t get there.
Denis MacShane is the UK’s former minister for Europe. He has written a biography of François Mitterrand and appears regularly on French radio and TV commenting on European politics.
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