Yesterday was the second round of the French regional elections, and the National Front was defeated in all three contested districts. (I explained how these work last week.) Nidra Poller wrote a good essay about the FN last year for those who want to know more about the LePen family psychodrama:
While the notoriously provocative father has remained honorary president of the FN, the daughter claims to have banished unsavory ideas and elements that – unfairly in her view – justified its “demonization.” Cleansed of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, racism and other reprehensible traits associated with the “Far Right Populist” strain of postwar European politics, the National Front is claimed to be the West’s only line of defense against Islamization, EU tyranny, globalization, cheap Chinese merchandise, rampant capitalism, the banks, the international oligarchy that exploits the hardworking little man … and what other evils?
According to an investigation published in January 2014 by Frédéric Haziza, Vol au-dessus d’un nid de fachos (Flight over a nest of fascists), the National Front gravitates in a “Populist Far Right” constellation that includes the skinhead Serge Ayoub, the intellectual Alain Soral, the ex-comic Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, the PR wizard Frédéric Chatillon, and assorted like-minded personalities. Members and leaders of these groups fall in and out with each other, conveniently allowing them to disavow specific reprehensible acts or associations, but their core principles are largely compatible: Third Reich nostalgia, Holocaust denial, obsessive hatred of Jews/Zionists, rejection of capitalism and parliamentary democracy.
Gabriel Oppetit notes, correctly, “While the FN is frequently warned about — and for good reason — its economic proposals are rarely decried for what they are: a manifesto for a state-run, nationalistic economy.” This — as he also correctly points out — has been tried in country after country, and has consistently produced economic, social, and political misery.
The party was on top in six of 13 regions in the first-round last week. It didn’t win a single one of the regions in the second round. Sarkozy’s party (Les Républicains) took seven of 13 regions, giving them the largest share. But they couldn’t have done it without the tactical support of the ruling PS. In the three regions where the FN came in first last week, the PS pulled out their candidates, and had they not, it’s impossible to say what the voters would have done. In one region, the PS candidate refused to pull out: Les Républicains took it.
Voter turnout was much higher than in the first round, suggesting the familiar pattern of FN-as-protest-vote followed by a “Now let’s be serious” response. But they came way too close for comfort. That they were kept out by tactical retreat and tactical voting will now give them the argument that they’re the object of a conspiracy.
The relief in France is considerable. But as La Croix put it, it’s a “cowardly relief” — as Leon Blum famously put it in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement. No one thinks they’re gone.