France did not reject the far-right

20.6 million voters rejected the far right in France last week. But 10.7 million actively supported it.

May 11, 2017 13:07

When the results of the French presidential election came in, the narrative in the media and elsewhere was, mostly, that the march of the extreme right had been halted.

“France dodges a bullet” was the headline in several outlets as Marine Le Pen lost heavily to Emmanuel Macron. No, it didn’t.

Think of the election as a whole, and think of it a different way. For three decades now the extreme right in France has been firing bullets — and in most elections, it has been getting closer and closer to its target: influence, then power. Now it has reached the final round of the presidential election for the second time, and this time doubled the vote of 2002 with almost 11 million people supporting xenophobia and a party with a clearly fascist past. To regard this as a failure is to be complacent.

“France just rejected the far right,” said other headlines. No, it didn’t.

To be precise, 20.6 million voters rejected it, 10.7 million actively supported it, a record 4.2 million spoiled their ballots, and 12 million abstained. Add this to the rejection of the traditional parties in the first round, and we do not see a picture of a France fully behind the centre ground — 40 per cent of votes in round one were for the extreme left and right.

The narrative that the far-right failed was the same following the recent Dutch election. Then, Geert Wilders’ extremist Freedom Party did not win, but its vote share went up. To see an extremist party moving from the fringe, into parliament, and then increasing its vote share and seats as failure is complacency.

Now 48-year-old Ms Le Pen promises to begin a “deep transformation of our movement”. This is not due to some shattering defeat but to build on the substantial gains already made.

So, it’s down to President-elect Macron to unify the Fifth Republic, to reform its economy, and slay the dragon of unemployment, so that, in his words, voters “no longer have a reason to vote for an extremist position”.

That is going to be extraordinarily difficult, especially if the migration crisis returns at levels seen in 2015, and the moribund economy does not revive. By his own logic, if he fails then there’s no reason to believe that the vote for the extremes will fade.

This week, hard-line unions were already demonstrating against his proposed economic reforms and called him a “traitor” — the sort of violent political language usually used by the hard right. He’s going to need a lot of help, and some luck to go with it.

In the 1928 German national elections, a fringe party called the National Socialists won 2.6 per cent of the vote. In 1930, it had risen to 18.3 per cent. Ah, but “it had not won power, it had been defeated”, to employ the logic some analysts have been using this week.


Tim Marshall is former Diplomatic Editor at Sky News and now runs the website


May 11, 2017 13:07

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