A useful lesson: Jean Marie Le Pen’s National Front party is now in decline
The British National Party’s capture of two seats in the recent elections for the European Parliament has given the BNP both a new level of representation and a significant boost to its coffers. More money still will be on offer if the disparate forces of the far right are able to cobble together a unique European parliamentary grouping of their own.
Though the BNP’s total vote actually went down in the two constituencies where it won seats, this was clearly a breakthrough of sorts. But does it mark a significant new departure point for the far right in Britain or could its appeal prove just as resistible as that of similar parties in the past?
There are some instructive lessons for Britain—especially for our mainstream parties—from just across the Channel. In France the Front National had its own European dawn in 1984 when it won ten seats in the Strasbourg parliament. This was the start of an almost 20 year-long advance, which culminated in the presidential election of 2002. Then, the Front’s rumbustious veteran leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, pushed the Socialist candidate into third place, winning through to the second-round run-off, where he secured nearly 18 per cent of the national vote. The Front National racked up impressive electoral gains along the way: in 1986 it won 35 seats in the French parliament.
The Front’s rise was a response to many of the same factors that have contributed to the BNP’s success: unemployment, alienation, a sense of dislocation, and especially the rupture of a long-standing tradition of working class political allegiance: in this case the collapse of the French Communist Party. The Front’s focus on the perceived ills of immigration; its hostility to mondialisme (a threatening internationalism that gained currency in far-right circles long before globalisation became a more general buzz-word); and its chauvinistic nationalism all seemed to offer simple answers to questions with which the mainstream parties could only struggle. However, its rise was to an extent facilitated by many other factors. For a period the press seemed to pounce upon every one of the party’s pronouncements; playing up its significance while paradoxically enabling Le Pen himself to claim that he was often victimised by…