France, Le Pen and the Far Right

The French Presidential election heads into round two after Easter. The French electoral system relies on a two-stage approach. A kind of slowed down Alternative Vote system if you like. Instead of casting a second preference vote, you get to vote again to decide between the two front runners and have an opportunity to reflect and reconsider in light of the final choice. Traditionally this meant that the smaller and extremist parties were eliminated in the first round. France in effect allowed for a protest before resuming two party politics.

Then in 2002, the world was shocked as Jean Marie Le Pen of the far right National Front party (FN) in France broke through into the second round due to the collapse of the left and distrust of Jacque Chirac the leading centre right candidate. This led to campaign slogans along the lines of “choose the crook not the fascist” and plenty of left-wing voters in effect held their noses and chose Chirac.

Since then, the   FN have made steady progress and under Le Pen’s daughter’s leadership, it almost seems to be normal for them to make it to the second round although then comfortably beaten by the centrist candidate.

This time, though it does look like things could go to the wire. I suspect most pundits still expect Macron to win but polls suggest it will be tight and upsets are possible. Anything can happen though in the next two weeks. 

What has surprised me a little is the blasé way in which the press here have reported the election. Perhaps one factor is the work that Marine Le Pen has done on the image of her party. Her father was kicked out, the party was renamed and more toxic policies have been played down in favour of an emphasis on the cost of living crisis.  I have even seen people, including Christian commentators questioning the pejorative description of her and her party as “Far Right.”

It’s important then to be clear that a careful look at the Le Pen platform shows that the old philosophy continues to underpin policies. This is not a reformed and changed party. Rebranding doesn’t change what they actually stand for.  What this means is that we should remember the odl proverb that the leopard doesn’t change its spots.

It’s also worth being aware of two tactics that the far right/fascists have often relied on. First, their race based policies are fronted by a cultural/religious agenda enabling them to present themselves as on the side of Christian culture and morality.  We see this at work in Russia with Putin using the Russian Orthodox church as moral cover for his agenda.  This kind of thing means that Christians can get drawn into quoting material coming from far right sources.  I warned about this during the pandemic where a few people had ended up putting links up form sites against lockdowns and vaccines assuming it was all nice anti-authoritarian, libertarian stuff when in fact those sites were pushing far uglier agendas.

Secondly, the far right have from the start been oh so willing to play the victim card and present themselves as the oppressed minority. That’s why Christians need to be aware of another line that has been successfully put out into the consciousness of those who support freedom.  Those on the far right will claim that it is only their position that is labelled pejoratively. Why doesn’t that happen to the far left?

Well, it’s worth observing that we don’t instinctively associate far left imagery with evil in quite the same way, primarily because we specifically associate the swastika with the holocaust. However, we need to remember that the Far Left has genocidal blood on its hands too. Indeed, it is helpful to see both positions not so much as the extreme ends of the main political spectrum but sitting on a different axis completely. Both far left and far right are united in a foundational philosophy that is underpinned by conspiracy theory narrative and the scapegoating of specific groups. So whilst it may be surprising to here antisemitism from the far left, it shouldn’t be.

At the same time, if we are getting drawn in by those claims then a reality check will remind us that it was only a couple of years ago that Jeremy Corbyn lost heavily exactly because the media and his rivals were able to successfully pin a far left label on him.

There’s not a lot we can do about the French presidential election. However, I hope we take it seriously in our prayers. A Le Pen election in France wouldn’t just be another Brexit or even a bit like Trump’s election in the US. It would be serious. Let’s pray that France will say no to the politics of hatred and fear.

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