French Elections: Far Right Consolidates Advance

Dave Kellaway makes an initial analysis of yesterday’s French parliamentary elections.

PARTY%VotesMPs elected first round2022 first round
Rassemblement National (Le Pen)29.259,377,1093719%
Republicains allied to RN (Ciotti)3.902,104,9781
Nouveau Front Populaire (Left coalition)27.998,974,4633226% (NUPES)
Ensemble (Macron)20.046,425,525226%
Republicains (mainstream right6.572,104,978111% (With Ciotti)
Independent right3.661,172,5352
Other independents left or centre2.75900,000 aprox0
Far left e.g Lutte Ouvriere1.5335,8170

Abstention lowest since 1997 at 32.5% (cf 53% in 2022)

Macron’s big gamble has failed. By calling a snap election, he thought the French people would rally around his centrist party and the moderate left to put Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN, National Rally) back in its box after its victory in the recent Euro elections. He assumed a bigger turnout would not favour Le Pen’s extreme right-wing, post-fascist party. On the contrary, 20% more people turned out than in 2022. The RN consolidated its Euro vote and successfully allied with a split from the mainstream Les Républicains (LR, the Republicans). In terms of actual votes – around 12 million if you add in the votes of the Zemmour current who got less than 1% – this is a massive breakthrough. Previous scores in legislative elections were less than half this.

“Macron’s gamble has backfired spectacularly, with the Rassemblement National consolidating its Euro vote and securing an unprecedented number of MPs in the first round.”

The RN has never had so many MPs elected in the first round. They were already the biggest single party in the National Assembly, and it is probable now that they will maintain that position with even more MPs. However, it is still uncertain whether they will get the 289 MPs needed for an absolute majority, which would guarantee them the premiership with their young leader Bardella.

Everything depends on what happens in the second-round run-off. The top two stand automatically, but the third candidate can run in the second round if they have more than 12.5% of the registered voters. All the discussion immediately following the election focuses on whether the best-placed candidate to defeat the RN is given a free run by any eligible third-place candidates stepping down. Leaders of the Nouveau Front Populaire (the New Popular Front-NPF) from the Socialist Party, the Ecologists, and La France Insoumise (France Unbowed – LFI) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have all called for this ‘barrage’ (bloc) to stop the RN winning.

However, leaders of Macron’s Ensemble (Together) party have been much more equivocal. Some have called for blocking the RN with a single candidate, while others have said they will judge on a case-by-case basis. Bruno Le Maire, current economics minister, and Edouard Philippe, former Macronist prime minister, hold this position, saying they will vote for the social democratic left but not for the LFI. They refuse to support second-placed candidates from the LFI, whom they consider as extreme as the RN. These people do not like the way the LFI have supported the Palestinians and condemned the Israeli state or criticised police actions in ethnic minority neighbourhoods. This vacillating position could help the RN squeeze past both the Left and the Macron parties in a three-way race in some areas.

“A vacillating position from Macron’s Ensemble party and mainstream right-wing leaders could allow the RN to squeeze past both the Left and Macron parties, jeopardising the stability of French democracy.”

The Macronists are third in 78 seats, and the NPF is third in 105, so if each side withdraws its candidates, there is a real chance that the RN surge could be held off in the second round. Much depends on whether Ensemble takes what is called a ‘republican line’ to stop the RN.

Leaders of the mainstream right wing that did not ally with Le Pen have refused to give any recommendation for the second round. François-Xavier Bellamy stated that ‘the real danger threatening our country is the far left’. The LR is obviously feeling the pressure of the RN, having just lost several MPs to Le Pen in the first round. This means their 6.5% of the vote will not necessarily go to candidates trying to stop the RN.

The Macronist position is more than a bit rich if you understand how Macron has been elected twice in a row on the back of the left and progressive electorate rallying around his candidature in the second rounds to stop Marine Le Pen from becoming president. It is particularly galling considering that calling this election, which has put the RN in a protagonist position, was unnecessary. Furthermore, it is the neo-liberal anti-working class policies championed by Macron, such as raising the pension age, that have fostered the widespread discontent from which Le Pen is benefiting.

Macron’s overall politics are not so different from the social liberal demagogy of Starmer. Macron broke with a certain traditional social democratic orientation of the Socialist Party to launch his bid for the presidency. He opposes ‘tax and spend’ and favours a partnership with business to grow the economy rather than any redistribution to lessen inequality or poverty. Macron promotes privatising reforms of the health service just like Wes Streeting.

The French president has cracked down on migrants and fostered the idea of radical Islam being a direct threat to French identity and security. Like Starmer, he has adapted to the right-wing narrative spread by the RN. Similarly, on law and order, he uses the same language about the need for more police and tackling anti-social behaviour. His international policies are a carbon copy of Starmer’s view of national security. The extreme centre in France has been a fertile breeding ground for the rise of the post-fascist hard right.

“The extreme centre in France, championed by Macron, has created a fertile breeding ground for the rise of the post-fascist hard right, mirroring the social liberal demagogy seen in other nations.”

A moderate Labour government under Starmer with Farage taking a lead in the opposition in parliament and in the streets could strengthen the far right in Britain. Particularly if, say, Farage gets up to 15% in the polls and very few or no MPs. Lots of people will feel the political system does not work for them.

The game is not over in France. People can change their votes between the two rounds, and abstention can go up or down. Everyone in the NPF will work hard this week to remobilise their base and alert new voters to the risk of an RN premiership. Unity has already paid off insofar as the main opposition bloc to the far right will be the broad Left. Within that coalition, the more radical LFI will still have a leading role.

An interesting detail of this election is that Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s attempt to quell his dissident MPs seems to have backfired. At least two whom he took off the slate have made it through to the second round as the best-placed candidates to take on the RN. As for the revolutionary candidate of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, Philippe Poutou, he got over 18% in a fiefdom of the RN in the Aude. The SP also put up a candidate against him, against the line of the NPF, and this ate into his potential vote.

The Macronists still talk about some new ‘moderate’ coalition in the new parliament which will stop an RN majority – presumably, this would span the SP, Greens, and what is left of the LR. The problem is that Macron himself has hollowed out the centre of French politics with his divisive programme. If the RN does not have an absolute majority, it is likely that the current unstable paralysis, with a President lacking a parliamentary majority, will continue.

If they were to get an absolute majority, there would need to be a massive fightback to block their reactionary programme, which includes the central plank of ‘French people first’ – stopping dual-nationals from holding certain public jobs, discriminating against ethnic minority populations, more aggressive policing, and attacks on women and LGBTQ+ people. Key representatives of the bosses have already been involved in talks with the RN about their policies.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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