We have our own elections to worry about here in the UK, but the French presidential election, the first round of which takes place on Sunday, has been attracting considerable attention on this side of the Channel, and for two reasons. The first is the assumption that Marine Le Pen will make it into the second round. The second is Brexit.
Most elections are a competition between continuity and change, and Le Pen represents profound change. If she were to win, then it could derail the entire European project, given her opposition to the Euro and her promise of a referendum on EU membership. A Le Pen victory would certainly have an impact on the Brexit negotiations, possibly in Britain’s favour.
However, the British government has made it clear – despite the protocol that one should not interfere in other countries’ elections – that it favours M. Macron, who, on a recent visit to London to attend an election rally, was received first by the Prime Minister in Downing Street. But further down the food chain, though few will admit it, there must be some rooting for Le Pen, just as there were many rooting for Trump, on the grounds that this would help a post-Brexit Britain. However, the official line remains that Britain wants to see a successful EU after Brexit, not the opposite.
Le Pen herself is usually described as a far-right candidate. This is somewhat misleading. She is not a traditional conservative, and her father’s legacy should not be forgotten, much as she might like us to. It is the tinge of National Socialism that makes her dangerous, and at the same time appealing.
Just recently the polls have tightened, and while it still seems likely that her opponent in the final round will be Macron, the scandal-hit M. Fillon is making a late comeback, and the far left M. Mélenchon is now in contention as well. Moreover, the recent terrorist attack in Paris may well have an effect on the outcome, so at present the safest thing one can say is that there is still all to play for.
The much fancied Macron is the establishment candidate par excellence, as even a cursory reading of his curriculum vitae will show. If he gets into the second round against Le Pen, some of her policies such as her protectionism and her state interventionism, might well appeal to the many left-wingers whom Macron leaves cold. The two turn system seems almost designed to keep someone like Le Pen out of power, but she is surely in with a shout, should she make the second round. Even if she loses the run off, her party’s representation in the National Assembly should surely grow on the coat tails of her success. That is worrying. Of course there are good Catholics in her party, but they sit in uncomfortable alliance with elements irreconcilable with Catholicism.
A Le Pen victory would be a huge upset. But the alternative, more of the same, represented by Macron, a same that has failed again and again, is hardly palatable. France desperately needs reform, especially in its employment laws. It is doubtful that Macron can deliver meaningful reforms, any more than Hollande and Sarkozy before him. France can’t afford another missed chance. There is still a chance that Fillon may make it into the second round. He has been derided by many as a Thatcherite, and, even worse, a devout Catholic. He may represent France’s best chance. We shall find out on Sunday.