Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
As this is my first post on Ricochet, I should let readers know whence I come. I am a British citizen who, after years of nomadic life working in banks in Scandinavia, the Middle East, Belgium and France, has decided to retire to Florida.
Having spent half my adult life in France, I follow with particular interest Claire Berlinski’s enlightened contributions to the Ricochet debate, and should like at this point, after the Brexit vote, the US presidential election and in view of next year’s French presidential election, contribute a thought of my own on all three.
Those who follow French politics will remember that in the first round of the presidential election of 2002, the Front National (led then by its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine), stunned pollsters and pundits alike by beating the Socialist Party’s Lionel Jospin into third place, thus earning a place in the run-off against Jacques Chirac. Of course, the Socialists and the Conservative RPR joined forces to give Chirac a landslide victory in the second round, but recent events show that the obvious lesson has still not been learned.
Demonizing a political opponent is quite simply counter-productive.
If you describe your opponent as racist, bigoted, or simply deplorable, not only will his (or her) supporters feel offended and then be more likely to mobilize on polling day, but they will also tend not to reveal to pollsters their real intentions for fear of ridicule (or worse). This leads to a ‘shock’ result (for some), speechless journalists (not necessarily a bad thing) and pollsters looking (more) stupid (than usual).
We saw this in June with the Brexit referendum, which the Remainers lost primarily because the Government, the BBC and The Guardian, aided by The Economist and (to my great distress) the Financial Times, assured them smugly that they could not lose.
It happened again earlier this month when CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post, having campaigned energetically, and with total disregard for any deontology dictating journalistic impartiality, for Hillary Clinton, assured the country that the result was a foregone conclusion.
The odds are that the same scenario will be repeated in next year’s French presidential election which will almost certainly end in a run-off between Marine Le Pen and, probably, François Fillon. But the concerted effort to cut the Front National off, which was hugely successful in 2002, may not work in 2017. Marine Le Pen is a far cannier politician than her father, a more likeable person and, above all, has a lot going for her : the growing feeling among the French that the migrant crisis is a threat to their national identity, not to mention an economic burden, a sneaking admiration of the British for having voted Leave (not that any Frenchman is going to admit that) and a general lassitude towards Europe which may well be magnified after the Italian referendum next month and the financial crisis which might ensue.
Whereas Nicolas Sarkozy and, to a lesser extent, Alain Juppé, might make a dramatic swing to the right in an attempt to win back supporters from the Front National, it would be totally out of character for M. Fillon to do so. But he is equally unlikely to attract the ex-Socialist and ex-Communist voters who are the principal reason why Mme Le Pen is doing so well in the polls, and the polls, as I believe I have demonstrated, are probably understating her support in the electorate.
Time will tell, but those who today sneer at ‘populist’ movements in Europe should beware. It may have escaped the notice of the chattering classes who read the New York Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde, The Guardian and Die Zeit, but Europe is now in a mortal struggle to conserve its cultural heritage, indeed its very civilization. European peoples are aware of this, even though their political leaders are largely in denial.
Beware of the ‘demons’.