by John Lichfield
Monday, 24
January 2022
Analysis
13:00

It’s transfer season on the French hard Right

Three politicians defect from Marine Le Pen to Éric Zemmour
by John Lichfield
Gilbert Collard (R) defected from Marine Le Pen’s Party to Éric Zemmour

The transfer window is open on the French hard-Right.

Two politicians elected to the European Parliament under the banner of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National have defected to her ultra-nationalist rival, Éric Zemmour. So has a parliamentary assistant.

Two of them are moderately big fish. The best known is Gilbert Collard, a celebrity lawyer turned politician who has been a fellow traveller of Lepennism for 10 years. He was elected to the national parliament and then the European parliament on an RN ticket but never actually joined her party. 

The other renegade Euro MP, Jérôme Rivière used to belong to the main centre-Right party, Les Républicains, then called the UMP. He joined Le Pen in 2017 and was a spokesman for her campaign in this year’s presidential election.

This is unquestionably embarrassing for Le Pen. But the timing is, on the surface, surprising. Le Pen has been rising in the opinion polls in recent weeks. She now looks a reasonable bet once again to take one of the top two places in the first round on 10 April and reach the run-off two weeks later.

Zemmour, her far-Right rival, has fallen to fourth place in the polls on 12-13% after zooming to 19-20% in September. His chances of reaching the run-off appear close to zero. Why then abandon a rising candidate for a struggling one? Is this a rare case of rats joining a sinking ship? 

The explanation is the longer-term view. The three renegades have probably written off the chances of either Le Pen or Zemmour winning the presidency this year. They are discouraged by the amateurish muddle and lack of funds in Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. They believe that her defeat will mark the end of the dominance of Lepennism on the far-Right. They expect a broader, hard-Right, nationalist movement to emerge before the next presidential election in 2027 and want to be part of that tectonic shift in French politics.

All the indications are that Zemmour’s campaign will fall flat and fail this spring. His negative ratings have grown during the campaign. In the latest Paris Match-Ifop league table of political popularity he comes 34th with only 27% approval; Le Pen is 12th with 40%. 

Could she therefore beat President Emmanuel Macron in a two-way battle on 24 April? The polls suggest that she would get closer than she did in 2017 (66-34%) but Macron would win by 10-12 points. The three renegades evidently agree with the polls. 

Zemmour’s people remain bullish about his chances this year. They see the three mid-season signings as proof that the campaign is about to swing back in his direction. They speak of further defections, this time from the centre-Right Les Républicains (LR). 

One reasonably senior centre-Right figure, Guillaume Peltier, a former vice president of the LR, has already joined Zemmour. But he, like Collard and Rivière, is an allegiance-fluid politician, who was once a Lepennist. No core personalities from Les Républicains have moved into the Zemmour camp so far.

The next big transfer could come once again from the Le Pen camp — or at least the Le Pen family. All eyes are on a possible pro-Zemmour declaration by Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal. Maréchal, the grand-daughter of the far-Right patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen, has split with her aunt Marine and stepped away from frontline politics. She is a friend of Zemmour’s.

Although only 32, she is seen by many people on the French Right and far-Right as the possible leader of a new nationalist-conservative movement which could mount a serious challenge for the presidency in five years’ time.

A Marion declaration for Zemmour would not be enough to revive his campaign. It would be a political version of the celebrated sign at French railway level crossings. “Un train peut en cacher un autre. (One train can conceal the next.) ” One campaign can also conceal another.

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Frederick B
Frederick B
3 months ago

Fortunate France, to have such a plethora of riches on the nationalist right! Marion Marechal, gosh.
Compare and contrast our choice, here in poor old England.

D Ward
D Ward
3 months ago

Stopped reading at “hard right”. Yawn. Cliche alert.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

Hard right? A political writer cannot expect to be read if that is the limit of his sophistication in analysis. Please get a serious writer to cover the deep complexity of French politics

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The author is not form Stoke-on-Trent you know

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

Is he not? Is that relevant to anything?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

He wrote a long article on Stoke and Brexit as if it was his home town

Charlie Walker
Charlie Walker
3 months ago

This is a genuine question – honestly- could the author or the team at UnHerd write a post or main article to explain why Zemmour is always referred to as “hard-right”, as though that was his First name? I get that he said some controversial things and has waded into the question of French islamism but he does have some valid points in there if not the right way of addressing things (I have no idea) and someone has to be brave enough to begin to tackle that horrendous and dangerous divide that I understand is beginning to become a chasm in France and then across Europe, before it becomes irreparable.
No one else seems to be willing to even start a debate on one of the most important subjects that will affect our lives and cultures. He may not be the right person to follow it through and he may be too strident with the wrong tools to tackle the conflict (because that is surely what it is), but surely trying to damn him with easy labels to stifle any debate is not going to help anyone?
i repeat, surely someone has to be brave enough to start finding a solution before it erupts in serious and violent conflict? Further and more violent conflict.

Yendi Dial
Yendi Dial
3 months ago

ca commence bien”  hard Right!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Yendi Dial

ça finit bien, ““Un train peut en cacher un autre.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

How we need them in nu woke petit bourgeois infected britn

Art C
Art C
3 months ago

Has anyone thought that the polls may not be good? Remember the US election in 2016 when at one point it was considered a mere formality that Hillary Clinton would win. I recall some mainstream media citing her chances of winning well over 90% !

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago

Anyone out there?