by Peter Franklin
Monday, 11
April 2022
Analysis
13:30

The collapse of French conservatism is the story of the night

While the far-Right made significant inroads, the centre-Right collapsed
by Peter Franklin
Valérie Pécresse scored a miserable 4.8%. Credit: Getty

The question of how well the French Right did in yesterday’s election depends on definitions. Marine Le Pen is commonly categorised as being of the far-Right — and she’s made it through to the second round against Emmanuel Macron, which takes place in two weeks’ time. 

Compared to the first round in 2017, she also increased her share of the vote from 21.3% to 23.4%. Furthermore, she pulled this off against a significant challenge from a rival Right-wing populist candidate, Éric Zemmour, who finished fourth with 7% of the vote. So that’s a combined vote of over 30% for the far-Right. 

But a few things worth considering.

Firstly, the gap between Macron (who won with with close to 28% of the vote) and Le Pen was wider than some of the polls had been predicting. It’s also the best first round performance for a sitting President since the 1980s. His campaign would have to implode for him not to beat Le Pen again on the 24th April. 

Secondly, the gap between Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left-wing populist, and Le Pen was narrower than expected. He finished third with 22% of the vote. If the French Communist Party hadn’t run their own candidate (Fabien Roussel who finished eighth on 2.3%) and had endorsed Mélenchon as they did in 2017, then the latter might have just slipped past Le Pen to win a place in the run-off against Macron.

Thirdly, the scale of the far-Right’s advance is overshadowed by the extent of the centre-Right’s retreat. In 2017, the leading conservative candidate, François Fillon, got 20% of the vote, this time round Valérie Pécresse scored a miserable 4.8%. The collapse of mainstream French conservatism is the biggest story of the night. 

If one takes the combined the votes of all the centre-Right and far-Right candidates in 2017 and 2022, then the French Right as a whole has gone backwards. In 2017, the combined share for Le Pen and Fillon (plus the minor candidates Dupont-Aignan, Lassalle and Asselineau) was close to 50%; but in 2022, Le Pen, Zemmour and Pécresse (plus Dupont-Aignan and Lassalle) couldn’t manage much more than 40%. 

Furthermore, the French Right is now dominated by what used to be its extremist fringe. One could argue that this the reassertion of an older historical pattern. The legacy of Pétain has triumphed over the legacy of De Gaulle, and the forces of reaction have elbowed aside true conservatism. 

Then again, one could count Emmanuel Macron as a sort of Right-winger. He is, after all, the defender of the neoliberal status quo. And while one might hesitate to describe his globalising, Euro-federalist agenda as conservative, it certainly isn’t Left-wing.  

The irony is that it will be Mélenchon’s voters — who desperately want to believe his slogan “un autre monde est possible” — who will decide the outcome of this election. They could still choose that other world, but it would have to be Le Pen’s version. 

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
5 months ago

No, Mme Le Pen is not the heir of Petain. No, French conservatism has not collapsed. The author is looking at the distorting and superficial results of a single election and mistaking them for the reality. So what’s really happening? On the ground, we have an ongoing hard left insurgency composed of two historic campaigns: first, to indoctrinate the metropolitan young through control of education, media and government. This explains both Melenchon and Corbyn, to name but two. Second, to raise migration levels so high that a new “proletariat” or left-wing client base is established in otherwise stable free market societies. Blair’s people called it “rubbing the right’s nose in diversity”. This has the peculiar effect of splitting the traditional right and left in four directions and weakening all at once. The right splits along its historic fault-line of nationalist and capitalist. The left divides along similarly well established boundaries of “just how left / radical / virtuous are you?” Emerging from the middle of this muddle is a sort of technocratic centrism manifest in all members of the traditional political class who have wittingly or otherwise ducked the hard left’s challenge. Hence Johnson, a floundering windbag; hence Macron, a preening popinjay. Both talk and cant and jet about and achieve nothing, partly because all they can offer is a holding operation – with a central message of “don’t, for goodness’ sake, rock the boat” disguised under hideous parodies of energy and renovation. The same process explains Germany’s experiments with “Grand Coalition”. The more they cant, the worse things get; the worse things get, the more people are frightened; the more people are frightened, the more they cling to the muddled, middling mediocrities as the last gasp of normality. Then the crash will come. Society is held together by a number of assumptions and traditions directly threatened in Europe today by current levels of mass migration. The hard left knows this and is exploiting it just as intensively as it can. The social despair and disintegration it produces – falling native birth rates, collapsing rates of marriage and increased incidence of suicide are stark evidence of their “success”.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

A “success” that has been massively helped by legions of the well-educated, whether social democrats from the centre-left or socially liberal conservatives (= Remain Tories here in the UK).

What unites these two bunches of smug, virtue-signalling hypocrites (with massive egos) is their belief in internationalism – which not only benefits them and their broods financially, but fills them with the hollow false-joy that followers of false religions always command.

After brief panic in the immediate wake of Putin’s invasion, its failure has filled them with even greater smugness and self-assurance.

Together, these two groups of affluent, well-educated people are truly formidable – they wholly dominate our society, media and politics.

Of course, any emergency will fling them away as wind blows away cobwebs, and consign to the dustbin of history. But such is the power of Inertia commanded by an existing order, that – amazingly – emergencies have so far been staved off.

Last edited 5 months ago by Tony Buck
Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
5 months ago

It’s not really Communist – Socialist -Centrist – Conservatives – Far Right. Le Pens party has many economic policies that are very socialist; they are not far right.
At a risk of over simplifying it’s more a case of patriotic leftists that want to control immigration etc. vs leftists that don’t.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
5 months ago
Reply to  Pete Marsh

Labels are easy to use, and enble a commentator to get across some idea of where a candidate stands, but too often they are lazy, and are seen from one’s own stand point – if you’re on the right every one else is left-wing and vice versa. Although these labels are no longer very useful, at the moment there doesn’t appear to be anything better. It’s probably better to talk about the National Rally and En Marche because neither fit any particular part of the spectrum any more; although I think it’s fair to speak of M. Mélenchon as left, so the labels are ok in some cases.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
5 months ago

If your labels are left and right, it looks like Macron is a shoe in. If your labels are “frightened of the loonies” and “sick of the establishment” it gets harder to call.

Large numbers of voters now seem to vote against something rather than for something.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
5 months ago

The results were an absolute catastrophe for the Right. The runoff was very nearly between Macron and Mélenchon, and Mélenchon had a better chance of beating Macron than Le Pen does. In 2007, Sarkozy won 11.5m votes in the first round, which compared to 8.8m votes for the Conservatives in the previous UK election. Yesterday, Pecresse won 1.7m votes, compared to 14m for the Tories in 2019. Like the CDU in Germany and Fine Gael in Ireland, the French centre right has shrunk by ignoring and denigrating the concerns of its base and chasing a metropolitan constituency which despises it. And now the standard bearer of the Right is unelectable. By contrast the Tories incorporated the support of the disaffected by getting Brexit done, and gained support in six elections in a row. But they won’t be able to rely on that indefinitely.

Last edited 5 months ago by Stephen Walshe