Andrew Marr’s interview with Marine Le Pen was culpably ill-prepared. But instead of outrage we just keep watchingby Lucy Wadham / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
More than a week has passed since that most surreal of mornings when many of us woke to find that the world was entirely different to the one in which we had gone to sleep. My initial shock at Donald Trump’s election has been slowly replaced by a kind of frozen comic detachment at its continuing awfulness. As if with each successive news item featuring Trump I’m being made to watch Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” over and over again.
On that morning after, in the climate of barely contained hysteria that was characterising most media output, I was asked to write about the possibility of Marine Le Pen becoming the next president of France. I declined, but had I written it, I would have argued that thanks to the two rounds of the French electoral system and the strong likelihood of a republican pact against her in the second round, Le Pen’s chances are pretty slim. The editor would not have found this argument very sexy and in this day and age, who wants well-founded when you can have sexy?
The Sunday after, I watched the BBC’s revered Andrew Marr interviewing Marine Le Pen. He was widely criticised for having invited an extreme-right politician to appear on Remembrance Sunday but he argued well in favour and I was confident we would all see her wriggling on his hook. Nothing of the kind. Le Pen did not wriggle. She cut through the water like a marlin dragging Marr in her wake.
Of the two, Le Pen, not Marr, was the more considered and plausible. His opening question was soft: “A lot of people are saying that the victory of Donald Trump makes the victory of Marine Le Pen in France much likelier. Do you agree with them?” Her answer: “He made possible what had previously been presented as impossible, so it’s really the victory of the people against the elite.”
Rather than ask how on earth the billionaire Trump is not a member of the elite, Marr pitched this rather pathetic question instead: “You have the reputation as a party of being racist and your own father used the phrase ‘a detail of history’ to describe the Holocaust. Have you really changed as a party?” I groaned. In the 30-odd years since her father made that remark she’s had plenty of time to build an excellent defence. “Listen,” Le Pen replied, summoning all her indignation. “I cannot let you say something so insulting. As it happens, the National Front has never been guilty of racism and in fact I would like you to tell me exactly what sentence, what proposal in the National Front’s programme is a racist proposal.”
Well, for one, in 2010 Le Pen compared the practice of French Muslims, unable to find space in mosques, praying in the streets, to the Nazi occupation of France. But Marr, instead of coming back with a list of all such nasty racist slips and slurs that she and her party have made in recent years, he let her move on to the injustices of globalisation, allowing her to talk past him and address the many in this country and beyond who hanker to return to a golden past.
Watching Marr’s hubris in interviewing Le Pen without having done his homework was another Springtime for Hitler moment for me. As I watched, ironic detachment kicked in to shield me from disgust and despair. It seemed that in our current world of surface and posturing it didn’t really matter that Le Pen had got away with talking about the need for French Muslims “to comply with our codes, our values, our French way of life” (“notre mode de vie francais” was mistranslated as “our French lifestyles”). Marr didn’t bat an eyelid at this. Instead he allowed her to couch herself in another layer of respectability. Clearly for him, the coup was simply having her on his programme.
I, with most of my peers, have become addicted to box sets so I know from my own lifestyle over the last decade, that there has been a gradual slide away from the real, the concrete, the factual, towards the heightened, the fantastical, the entertaining. If we, the soi-disant chattering classes prefer to numb our minds every evening Netflix’s beautifully accomplished The Crown rather than meet up and talk about the disaster unfolding in the world around us, then what hope do we have? I fear my “Springtime for Hitler” moments are a kind of existential paralysis in the face of the real and that Trump’s victory is not just an American symptom but a global symptom. A sign of the times. It’s the triumph of appearance over reality, the lure of the dream. And that’s “dream” as in self-deluding fantasy, rather than aspiration, ambition or ideal.