Long before France’s incompetent Interior Ministry had belatedly managed to cobble together a definitive result for the first round of the presidential election, the establishment pro-EU elites heaved a collective sigh of relief. Yet the biggest sigh of relief was heaved, more discreetly, by Marine Le Pen, and with greater justification.
For her, the dangerous part of this election is over: she has made it into the second-round runoff, beating her father’s record, gaining 1.2 million more votes than in 2012 and maintaining the momentum that is crucial to her real ambitions for 2022. Of course it was frustrating for her to come a couple of percentage points behind Emmanuel Macron, but that disappointment fades into insignificance beside the grave danger she has averted.
This election, regarded months ago as favourable to Marine Le Pen, in its later stages turned into the worst possible scenario for her. Four candidates virtually neck-and-neck, each in rotation gaining a few points in popularity only to be outpaced in turn by a rival: this situation presented the real possibility that, despite her high political profile, a freak movement of opinion at the moment the music stopped could have left her in third place by a few thousand votes and ended her presidential bid.
Instead, she is one of just two people eligible to become president and the Front National is the sole political party with a candidate for the Elysée (even if Le Pen has technically suspended her presidency of the FN for the second electoral round). Macron has no established party and France’s legacy parties have all been humiliatingly rejected by the electorate. That phenomenon is hugely significant not only for the prospects of the FN but for the putative future of the moribund Fifth Republic and the Eurozone that is killing it. All Le Pen has to do now is strain every nerve to record a respectable vote in the runoff, then bank the credit she has gained at the National Assembly elections in June.
So, it is understandable Marine Le Pen should privately feel relieved, but the same sentiment being entertained by the establishment consensus is testimony to the desperation of its situation. That the ÉNA graduates who have run France with an unassailable sense of entitlement for the whole of the post-Gaullist era should contemplate a political landscape in which all their parties have been defeated, the FN alone among traditional political formations is a contender for the Elysée and 46 per cent of the electorate has just voted for Eurosceptic candidates – and heave a sigh of relief – illustrates the low expectations of the énarques, now struggling for survival.
In their eyes the great virtue of Emmanuel Macron – whom all the other candidates were denouncing vociferously for his manifest unsuitability until last Sunday, since when he has been adopted as their standard bearer – is that he is not Marine Le Pen. Voters, however, may scrutinize him more closely. They will see a millionaire, an ex-Rothschild investment banker, an “outsider” who served as Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, a man who wants “more Europe, not less”, who applauded Angela Merkel’s open borders policy and who has told the French they must henceforth accept terrorism as part of daily life. What’s not to like?
Those, of course, are only the elements of his programme that can be comprehended. Many of Macron’s utterances are beyond Delphic: “I have always assumed the dimension of verticality, of transcendence, but, at the same time, it must be anchored in complete immanence, in the material.” Right. That’s Noam Chomsky’s vote in the bag. Sartre would have loved it. It is the glory of French politics that one gets a better class of inarticulacy than that supplied by John Prescott.
At other times, instead of spouting existentialist chatter from a dinner party in the 16e arrondissement, Macron becomes positively lyrical: “All of us are rooted and thus, because we are embedded, there are trees beside us, there are rivers, there are fish, there are brothers and sisters.” If he continues in this strain, he will soon be parading the streets walking a lobster on a leash. Look, Emmanuel, if France had wanted Gérard de Nerval in the Elysée she would have voted for him.
No wonder Marine Le Pen could not conceal her hope that, if she reached the second round, her opponent would be Macron. Some people misconstrued that as simply implying she thought she could beat him, but she may well have been looking forward to a Macron incumbency as the ideal prelude to her assault on the presidency in 2022. There is no easy way forward for France; but five years of a clean-shaven, well tailored Jeremy Corbyn would prove the coup-de-grace, the most effective tutorial in the need to jettison the Enarques, the Eurozone and the whole dead political system.
At last the French Right is beginning, fitfully, to coalesce. Among Les Républicains open revolt has broken out against the impertinence of the “consigne” – the assignment of his vote – by Francois Fillon to Macron. The instructions by defeated candidates to their followers to vote for a particular survivor have always been patronising and largely ineffective.
Fillon’s support of Macron has enraged his followers, especially members of Sens Commun (Common Sense), the “Tea Party” within the Republican party, born out of the pro-family, anti-same-sex marriage demonstrations, the largest right-wing manifestations for 30 years, in 2013. The anti-Macron reaction covers the entire Right spectrum. Christine Boutin, former leader of the Christian Democratic Party, housing minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-presidential candidate tweeted: “I cannot say that Marine Le Pen is my cup of tea, but Emmanuel Macron, never! He is pestilence and cholera.” We’ll take that as a No, then.
Even Philippe de Villiers, leader of the Mouvement pour la France and publicist of the Republican genocide in the Vendée during the revolutionary Terror, is poised to support Le Pen. The Front National is now not only respectable, but recognised as the flagship of the Right. The traditional right – Catholic, pro-family and still passively royalist – is finally prepared to make common cause against unlimited immigration and anti-Christian policies. The Freemasonic manipulation of the Hollande government was the most overt in living memory and people took notice.
There are many ghosts stirring – the shades of Dreyfus, L’Affaire des Fiches, Charles Maurras, the Algerian debacle among them. The next three decades are likely to be a time of conservative resurgence in French politics and intellectual discourse, and of disaster for the EU. There is a sense that something unclean born in 1789 is shuffling unsteadily towards the grave – regardless of what happens on 7 May.