It’s not looking good for Marine Le Pen’s presidential campaign. The latest polls show the National Front leader at 41 percent against the independent Emmanuel Macron, who’s expected to handily win the presidential runoff on Sunday.
However, those same polls also show Le Pen steadily rising, as the voters behind the nine candidates who did not qualify for the runoff now choose their favorites and an equal number decide to abstain. Last week, Le Monde reported on a new campaign leaflet circulated by Le Pen’s National Front that tries to attract the electorate of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who got 19.5 percent of the vote in the first round.
The leaflet, titled “Our future together,” compares Mélenchon’s proposals to those of Marine Le Pen. It trumpets that both candidates want to leave the European Union, NATO (which, in the case, of Le Pen is actually not true), and international trade deals. Additionally, both want to keep the 35-hour working week, install different measures of protectionism (by for instance, taxing foreign imports), and cut the income tax for low-income earners.
Rejection of free trade is a key issue here. According to an IFOP poll taken just prior to the 2012 presidential election, 53 percent of French people believe that free trade has a negative impact on consumer prices, 69 percent say it aggravates the deficit, and a staggering 81 per cent believe it has a negative impact on employment.
Still, despite the similarities, you have to wonder how a reader of Libération and Humanité (both well-known leftist newspapers) who is wistful at the thought of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro would ever vote for Marine Le Pen, whose father is a known anti-Semite and whose party runs on fears of immigration, rejecting social progressivism, and on intensifying the war on drugs. Could the French far left ever rally behind Le Pen?
It could, for three reasons.
For one thing, Le Pen’s opponent in the runoff on Sunday is Emmanuel Macron, a pro-EU centrist and former investment banker who, during his time as minister of the economy, made considerable (for France) steps towards the liberalization of the labour market. He pushed for more business freedom and managed to loosen some very strict labor regulations. Expecting the same leftists who protested his labor reforms for months to suddenly vote Macron just to oppose what is being called “Le Pen’s threat”: that’s rich.
Another factor is anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen herself is accused of anti-Semitism, not only because of her very controversial father Jean-Marie Le Pen, but also because her proposed secularism bill would ban kippas and because she commented that the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup – the mass arrest of Jews in Paris in July of 1942, many of whom were deported to Auschwitz – was not the responsibility of France (hint: it was). The French far left isn’t innocent in this sense either. Their ideological ancestors used to spread posters like these in the streets of Paris:
Translated: “The Jews own two thirds of the world’s wealth! Out of 100 Jews: 80 capitalists. Out of 100,000 French people: 1 capitalist.”
The progressive French Think Tank Fondapol released a study in 2014 that claimed:
The French society includes three very strong centres of anti-Semitism. The first, the relatives of the National Front and the voters of Marine Le Pen in 2012, occupy an important position in this matter. The second group is among the French Muslims, where there is also an anti-Semitic sentiment that is shared more easily. And then the third group are the relatives of the Left Front and the supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in 2012…”
Last but not least, we need to rid ourselves of the image of the classic French leftist voter being the Paris intellectual or the university campus hipster. Marine Le Pen performs incredibly well in rural areas and those with high unemployment, which, due to deindustrialization, feel neglected by Paris elites. She is the most popular candidate amongst workers and farmers, the traditional electorates of the far-left. Those voters are now given the choice between the National Front, which supports the same economic program as Mélenchon, and a slick banker from an elite school.
Mélenchon refused to endorse Macron, as he knows it would alienate his own voters who are seduced by the appeal of economic welfare promises and anti-trade policies, all of which is now promulgated by Le Pen.
One might suggest that the far left and the far right were never an unholy alliance, but that they were identical from the start.
That would, of course, be just a suggestion.