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A bloc to block France’s extremists

As Marine Le Pen’s extreme right party creeps ever further ahead of its rivals, a new democratic collective has emerged

Jordan Bardella of RN and France’s prime minister, Gabriel Attal, take part in a TV debate hosted by French journalist Caroline Roux. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty

The historian Michel Winock has warned that, if Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s party wins the second and final round of votes on July 7, one of the possible outcomes is “civil war”. “French voters who thought that by voting National Rally, they would see the re-establishment of order and tranquillity risk being deeply fooled,” Winock said. 

Paralysis and inability to govern are also likely outcomes in the snap poll called by Emmanuel Macron when his party was trounced in the European elections. 

The extreme right is creeping ever further ahead of its rivals, thanks to a nearly flawless and long-term normalisation effort. Le Pen’s party, the Rassemblement National, has been disciplined, has said little, has presented itself as a shield against antisemitism. It has backtracked on its more radical policies – like overturning retirement reforms and banning the headscarf in public. Rather than overtly backing Moscow, its statements on the Ukraine war have become more ambiguous. 

However, Le Pen-Bardella’s outfit is still short of the support that would give it an absolute majority in parliament. It has 36% of the vote. The new Popular Front has 27%, and Macron’s party, Ensemble, 20%.

This week’s candidate debates will feature Bardella, the 28-year-old ex-gamer-turned TikTok star, up against Gabriel Attal, the popular and punchy 35-year-old prime minister. Also on the bill will be the unpopular and marginal Manuel Bompard for the far left. 

France finds itself facing an almost unimaginable political landscape including a party that descends from the pro-Nazi Vichy regime and, at the other end of the spectrum, a far left dominated by a Soviet-nostalgic, pro-Hamas authoritarian leader who flirts with antisemitism. The two poles are pro-Kremlin on foreign policy, count multiple conspiracy theorists on their candidate lists and have offered up high-spending economic platforms that most economists say would plunge France further into debt and even financial crisis.

The divided rainbow left Nouveau Front Populaire (New Popular Front) grouping has seen its moderate Socialist wing led by Raphaël Glucksmann cannibalised by the veteran demagogue and ex-Trotskyist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. 

Almost 90% of Socialists do not want him as prime minister. More French voters find his La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) more of a threat to democracy than Le Pen. This may have something to do with the former drug dealers, Hamas defenders, overt antisemites and radicals who infest his party, along with his proposals for huge increases in taxation and spending.

Meanwhile, the democratic front against extremism has all but evaporated. In its place is a diminished coalition of centrists and moderates, running as far as they can from Macron (who wrote to voters over the weekend saying he understood they wanted change).

The campaign took a very dark turn this past week as resurgent antisemitism roared to the centre of political debate after a 12-year-old girl was tortured and gang-raped in a garage in a Paris suburb by a group of boys her age. According to the police investigation, they were taking vengeance because she “hid her Jewishness” from her ex-boyfriend, and had “not supported Palestine”. 

The crime sent the left into a spiral of internal recrimination over its stance on Hamas, Gaza and Israel. On Sunday night the coalition issued competing statements on how to tackle antisemitism. There are still deep fissures in France on that issue. During the second world war the French authorities collaborated with the Nazis and were actively engaged in deporting 77,000 Jews to the gas chambers.

At Le Figaro, the formerly traditional conservative newspaper that has taken to campaigning for National Rally, Le Pen was given an op-ed platform to take the stick to the extreme left’s tolerance for antisemitism. Except that she did it without ever once mentioning that her party was co-founded by her Holocaust-denying father, together with a former member of the Waffen-SS. 

Nor did she admit that today, her party remains the spiritual home for those old extremists. Meanwhile, in an unusual gaffe revealing her true self, Le Pen said she did not find it racist to say “go back to the kennel” to a French resident of African descent. 

In the centre ground, a new democratic collective has emerged called Block Them! It is calling on voters to vote against all extreme candidates, on both left and right. The aim is to form a coalition government of MPs who want France to stay true to its values of liberty, equality, fraternity and laicité (secularism). “The new democratic front for the French republic is about stopping extremist MPs who are pro-Hamas, pro-Putin, racist and antisemitic from being elected to the National Assembly,” said Caroline Fourest, editor of the weekly Franc-Tireur. “Let’s form a bloc and block them!”

Emma-Kate Symons is a Paris-based journalist and columnist

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