After Marine Le Pen, what next for the French Right?
The future of French conservatism has never looked less certain
Panic over. There’s no risk of a President Le Pen for another five years — and quite possibly forever. As in 2017, and also last year’s regional elections, Marine Le Pen underperformed polling expectations.
The latest projections show that Emmanuel Macron has won re-election by more than 15 points. Though this is down on his 2017 margin of victory, it is still convincing. In fact, it’s the most emphatic re-election victory for a sitting French President since Jacques Chirac trounced Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002.
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If Marine Le Pen had lost by less than ten points, then we might have assumed that she’d be back for one more heave in 2027. But that is now in doubt. A more likely scenario is a fight for the leadership — indeed the entire character — of the French Right.
There are several options on offer. For instance, there’s the semi-intellectualised, hard-line version from Éric Zemmour. He finished fourth in the first round, which may be enough to fuel a second run for the presidency in five years time. Alternatively, there’s the next generation of the Le Pen family in the form of Marion Maréchal — the grand-daughter of Jean-Marie and niece of Marine. Five years ago, she stepped back from frontline politics, but no one doubts that she’s the long-term future of her clan.
Another possibility is a merger between the moderate and radical halves of the French Right. In the first round, two weeks ago, the main centre-Right candidate for the presidency got less than 5% of the vote — an existentially disastrous performance. However, Gaullist decency aside, there’s an excellent reason why French conservatives should resist getting into bed with the Le Pens — and that’s the fact that Emmanuel Macron can’t run again.
A two-term limit on the presidency was introduced in 2008. Therefore France is not condemned to endless series of Macron-Le Pen rematches. The question therefore is who will succeed the current president as the candidate of the mainstream.
That question might be settled in June when the French elect a new National Assembly. While the presidential contest is the main event in France, the legislative election really matters this year. Currently, Macron’s LREM party and their centrist allies hold the majority of seats. If they maintain their dominant position then that would position an LREM candidate to step into Macron’s shoes in 2027.
If, on the other hand, the Macronistes perform as badly as they did in last year’s regional elections, then Macron will spend his second term dealing with a less friendly legislature. French conservatism could reassert itself in preparation for regaining the presidency in 2027.
Certainly, we’ll find out whether today’s outcome was the result of love for Manu or fear of Marine.
The result is most certainly not love of Manu. The fear of Marine was exaggerated successfully once again by a panic-stricken French political class. But the truth is that many of them despise Macron as much as the ordinary man in the street does. I predict that the empty vessel that is Macron will not fail to disappoint.
Macron’s LREM has absorbed the French centre-right with his anti-worker neoliberal policies. I don’t see how French conservatism can recover when it’s been cannibalised by the more successful ideologies of nationalism (Le Pen/Zemour) and neoliberal Euro-statism (Macron). Republicanism/Gaulism offers nothing to the French people who are desperate for a radical populist. The only reason Macron won was because the populist vote was split between the radical Left (Melenchon) and the National Populists (Le Pen). So long as the populists remain divided, the neoliberals will continue to win despite public resentment.
Places who hold between-two candidate elections will always get ‘hold your nose and vote for the one you hate least’ politics.
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