While the far-Right made significant inroads, the centre-Right collapsed
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.