by Aris Roussinos
Tuesday, 7
December 2021
Idea
07:00

Zemmour is just the beginning

France is moving dramatically Rightwards — and it's time the Brits took notice
by Aris Roussinos
Credit: Getty

Considering the amount of turmoil Britain’s relationship with Europe has caused in the past half-decade, you’d think British commentary would be paying more attention to the French election, and the dramatic Rightward shift of the French electorate it has already revealed. The entire French Left, representing every shade from Communism to soft-Left social democracy, can barely muster 20% voter support combined. The centre, represented by Macron, has shifted further towards a traditional perception of Right-wing politics than anyone on the Tory benches, railing against woke American cultural imperialism, shutting down Islamist NGOs and moving towards a markedly civilisationist discourse about what it means to be European.

Meanwhile, Éric Zemmour’s entrance into the presidential race has taken the direction of French politics further Right than it has been in many decades. Openly campaigning against “the Great Replacement,” against the “theft of democracy” by unelected judges and journalists, and promising to pull France out of NATO’s decision-making structures at the helm of his newly-titled “Reconquest” party, Zemmour is rapidly expanding the terrain of acceptable French political speech on the Right. At his rally yesterday, he ruminated, in Trumpian fashion, over the epithets applied to him by French tastemakers. “Me, a fascist?” he asked, as the crowd roared in approval, “Well, let’s see.”

No wonder that the centre-Right Les Republicains, the equivalent of the Conservative party, are paying attention to the new public mood. In the first round of their ballot for a presidential candidate, the hard-Right MP Eric Ciotti, who warns darkly of a “war of civilisations” and has previously said he’d vote for Zemmour against Macron, unexpectedly came first.

When Sunday’s second round saw him eliminated by the centrist figure Valerie Pécresse (who describes herself as one third Thatcher and two thirds Merkel), Ciotti announced a new movement, To The Right!, proclaiming that “we want a strong right that isn’t ashamed to be rightwing” (though a photo opportunity over lunch with Pécresse shows him staying in the Les Republicains fold). As the political scientist Douglas Webber has observed, Ciotti’s rise to prominence “clearly reflects a strong sort of shift in political opinion in France and certainly amongst the rank and file members of the Républicains towards the right or the far right.”

Last night, the Vice-President of Les Republicains Guillaume Peltier (a former Front National activist) declared “How can we remain insensitive to the speech for France of Éric Zemmour?,” adding “one single opponent, Emmanuel Macron; one sole objective, to repair France; only one way, to unite all the voters of the right, with Les Republicains.” Like Zemmour’s open pitch to disappointed Ciotti supporters to join his movement or his appointment of the aristocratic Breton general Bertrand de la Chesnais as his campaign manager, his candidacy has as much potential to drag the centre-Right rightwards as it does to splinter the hard and far-Right. 

Zemmour probably won’t win, but he’s setting the tone of the coming election, and someone like Zemmour will likely take power in France sooner than we in Britain expected. The inchoate political energy of the predominantly Leftwing-populist Gilets Jaunes movement, France’s most sustained revolutionary force in the streets since 1968, now seems to have firmly settled on the Right when it comes to the ballot box.

France shifting hard-Right is a very different prospect to distant Poland or Hungary doing the same: one possible outcome is Ed West’s thesis that an increasingly Right-wing Western Europe will eventually see British Conservatives rethinking their attitudes to the continental bloc. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Rightist Europe and Liberal America soon becoming the two poles of British political conflict. Whatever their reason for averting their gaze now, British pundits will soon have to take notice of France’s pronounced rightward drift.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago

When the facts change, one’s opinions should follow them. For years, the electorate was told that “far right” predictions and concerns over migration and “multiculturalism” were misplaced; and for years that same electorate based its opinions on the establishment’s version of truth, effectively marginalising all those with the courage to object. Well, those concerns have been justified and the predictions vindicated. Powell’s assessments, for example,turned out to be uncannily accurate. Nor is “far-right” a fair description of the Powell / Zemmour message. It does not advocate violence, “direct action” or discrimination of any kind. It does not endorse the expulsion of any but illegal migrants. It merely wishes to reduce migration to a level consistent with the continuity and survival of our society, something the left – with its agenda of utter destruction – smears as an unforgivable sin. The electorate is now waking up to these facts and naturally the so-called “far right” – in point of fact, patriotic Conservative movement – is rising, too. Indeed, it is on the rise all over the continent as the evidence of our senses increasingly contradicts the bland nonsense of the privileged centre and the vicious lies of the rabid left. And it is only if such patriotic Conservatism takes over in time that we shall be spared the breakdown and civil conflict inherent in abruptly divided and resettled societies.

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

The left in France has no coherent integration strategy for immigrants. Just renewed teaching of Liberté, égalité, fraternité etc and more social work. The ban-lieu aren’t buying it nor is the voting public. That said we should beware of the man on horseback phenomena in France. It could be farce or tragedy.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

Why is it such a surprise that there is a political shift towards the ‘Right’ when the ‘Left’ are so successfully sabotaging themselves?
The ‘Left’ often decry ‘Populism’ without any self awareness that the alternative they follow is ‘Elitism’. And eventually the political pendulum swings jerkily back.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
9 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

“Populism” is the word used by the left when they don’t agree with the policies. When they do agree with the policies of the populist, it is then ‘the will of the people’.

JP Martin
JP Martin
9 months ago

Exactly. And when the so-called populists try to implement what the voters want, the left will demand that unelected judges should invalidate the laws.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
9 months ago

Curious to see if France’s turn to the right will be mirrored in British politics.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago

Lets hope not.

D Glover
D Glover
9 months ago

An ambiguous figure of speech. Did you mean ‘followed by a right shift in British politics’ or ‘mirrored by a left shift in Britain’?

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
9 months ago

This all rather assumes America is/stays liberal. With the Biden presidency turning in to a slow motion car crash and demographic groups like the Hispanics moving to the right this is far from guaranteed

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

No kidding but Rouss is pretty weak on US political issues. He mistakes DC, California, NY for the larger project. The Dems have lost enormous numbers of state governments and governors and these political failures matter in the US.

David Bowker
David Bowker
9 months ago

Europe is fertile ground for authoritarianism. Its democracy is shallow. Before 1939 democracy was flimsy and rare. By 1945, at least in Western Europe, RAF and USAF bombs forced some democracy upon it. But it wasn’t voluntary.
The EU today is hardly democratic. The Greeks can vote until they are blue in the face, but Brussels has the power. But no-one votes Brussels in or out. Any country who defies the EU in a referendum has to vote again until they get it right. When a region like Catalonia wants to secede, the police arrest the rebels. Let’s not even talk about Hungary. There is no democratic culture or instinct.
Meanwhile the French have a big problem with their growing Moslem population because they have failed to integrate them, with even less success than us. But Zemmour’s policy of assimilation (where Mohammed apparently has to abandon his name and answer to Francois or Jean) would just lead to open conflict. I just can’t see any of this ending well for France.
I can only see the EU gradually shifting to the authoritarian right, Brussels unaccountable power increasing and democracy being eroded even further. No wonder they want to have their own army – they will need to use it on their own population soon.

Last edited 9 months ago by David Bowker
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago
Reply to  David Bowker

I think, unfortunately, that you are right about democracy in the EU. I only hope that your prediction about authoritarianism doesn’t come to pass.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago
Reply to  David Bowker

I’d argue that the distance between the authoritarian left and the authoritarian right is the smallest in politics. They are either end of a political spectrum that is not a straight line but one that loops back on itself.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
9 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

A horseshoe

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
9 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

But the encouraging thing is that if you are anti-authoritarian, the gap between left and right has gone as well. Get the message out! 🙂 Right now there are many people who have been ‘on the left’ all the days of their lives because they were in favour of personal autonomy, who have been astounded at how the covid crisis has played out. Why has ‘my side’ behaved so badly, in violation of the very principles I thought defined us?
They are coming around to the idea that the left has its own authoritarians, corporate owned, and goodness gracious you couldn’t get them to even entertain that option even 3 years ago.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago

Does France also suffer from the pernicious influence of a Left-biased higher education system?

Yes, they do. Most of the “woke culture” is based upon the post-structuralist theories which came out of French universities, I remember studying it and thinking at the time that there is nothing to be done with it as they brook no argument and would not engage in debates or discussion to the utter frustration of the “classical” philosophers. To these people all debate is a power struggle and therefore not to be countenanced. Mind you they also say that no-one has authority to say that his position is correct and all ideas/writings are of equal value, which means that they disappear up their own ar**s as they have no authority either.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago

This is a kind of question I find difficult to answer, it’s a chicken and egg situation – they get in because there are others like them, but which came first. I suspect that it was more an infiltration, a new idea was recognised which seemed interesting and was taught and even discussed and someone, then, thought it was not just interesting but right; so, the gradual normalisation of an extreme idea began. Once it was normalised those who wanted to appear to be “progressive” or, rather, were afraid to appear staid, took it up, and we are where we are now. This is all conjecture on my part, but it is an area where research would be fruitful.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago

That a good experimental out-line, now we just need the researchers, the money and the will. I suspect the last of the requirements is not available which means the first two won’t be either.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
9 months ago

It may have begun in France but it metastasised in the US, and was exported back to Europe.

Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
9 months ago

His launch speech is fantastic.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

I think British media has been providing more coverage on Zémmour and the trends in French politics than at least the German speaking media has. How much more coverage of it do you want?

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yea Zemmour is hardly a new face in France and he, more than la Pen, has been pulling Macron to the right for a long time. The author discovers things for those not paying attention. The Spectator has been covering Z for a long time.

Last edited 9 months ago by rick stubbs
Peter Mott
Peter Mott
9 months ago

Does anyone know what the difference between “far right” and “hard right” is, or how you tell whether someone is “far right” or just “right”?

Noah Ebtihej Sdiri
Noah Ebtihej Sdiri
9 months ago

Funny enough, the French mainstream media berate him because of his alleged «fascist» sympathy, yet his true weakness is his very neoliberal economic policies.
A Thatcher-like approach to economics won’t win the hearts of France’s “Left Behinds” who prefer Le Pen.
He’s the candidate of the bourgeoisie conservatrice – that’s his base but also his ceiling.
Only a charismatic leader who is economically progressive but socially conservative would have a chance to topple Macron. However, no such thing exists within French politics.

George Knight
George Knight
9 months ago

Could it be “Europe of the Dictators” again?