Sacre (bleu) rouge! – Popular Front pushes back Le Pen

Dave Kellaway looks at the results of the second round of the French parliamentary elections

 

Results of the Second Round of the French Parliamentary Elections

Party Results

PartySeats 2024Seats 2022
Nouveau Front Populaire (Left coalition)185131 (NUPES)
Results for parties in the NFP:
La France Insoumise (Jean Luc Melenchon)7575
Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party)6227
EELV – Ecologists2723
Parti Communiste (Communist Party)1012
NFP left independents (some excluded by Melenchon)11n/a
Ensemble (Macron, Bayrou and allies)165245
Rassemblement National (Le Pen)12589
LR – Republicains (mainstream right)4564
LR Ciotti split which supports RN17n/a
Various left independents not in NFP1221
(We have not included some very small groups, e.g., 4 regionalists)
  • 289 seats needed for a majority
  • Total votes in %: RN 32%, NFP 25%, Ensemble (Macron) 23%
  • Turnout: 67%, the highest since 1997 (up over 20 points from 2022)

Key point: Without the formation of the NFP, no defeat of Le Pen

Figures based on Nouvel Observateur, Monday 8th

Election Night Surprises

Journalists in France were quickly deleting the drafts they had been preparing when the exit poll came up on their screens. All the polls had been suggesting that Le Pen’s far-right National Rally would be at least the largest party and possibly even get close to an absolute majority. In the event, the mass mobilisation of the Left with the New Popular Front helped it become the largest bloc without getting a governing majority. Thanks to the call from the left to tactically vote for the best candidate to defeat the RN, the Macron bloc also did better than expected, although losing 80 seats in the process. Le Pen had been predicted to win up to 200 seats but did far worse. However, we should not forget her group topped the vote share, and the increase in her party’s seat tally is still historic.

Formation of the New Popular Front (NFP)

Given the collapse of NUPES in 2020, the previous left coalition that had blocked Macron from getting a working majority in 2022, it was not at all inevitable that the left would come together in a broad united front in these elections. The New Popular Front (NFP) ranged from the very moderate ex-President Francois Hollande to Philippe Poutou, the former presidential candidate from the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). The action programme it put before the electorate was a clear break both with the anti-working class neoliberalism of Macron and the social liberalism of the Socialist Party. People reacted positively to the idea of dumping Macron’s raising of the pension age or an increase in the minimum wage. There was a wave of enthusiastic support in the neighbourhoods, and the unions helped build big demonstrations against the post-fascist Le Pen.

Some small ultra-left organisations in France like Lutte Ouvrière and a split from the NPA criticised the NFP, stayed out, and stood candidates in the first round. They also refused to clearly call for a vote for the best-placed candidate in the second round in order to stop Le Pen. This is not so different, for example, than refusing to vote for Biden against Trump in swing states. The British Socialist Workers Party, in an article on their site, supported this position. If the left had not voted for Macron candidates in the second round, it would have meant an overall majority for Le Pen. Just listen to the relief expressed by ethnic minority people on TV in the Republic Square last night. They were terrified at a Le Pen government moving aggressively against so-called bi-nationals. Stopping a Le Pen government makes a real difference. Counter-posing mass struggles or street mobilisations as an immediate solution to defend black or Arab people is just demagogy. In fact, there is a strong argument that the formation of the NFP actually encouraged some of the biggest anti-racist, anti-fascist mobilisations we have seen in France for some time. As the NPA has argued, the NFP was not a barrier to mobilisations. Nor did it prevent the NPA from putting a class struggle line against the moderation of the PS or the Macronists.

The Road Ahead for the NFP

Today in France, people feel more confident and hopeful about keeping Le Pen out of government. The idea that the results just reinforce the moderate wing of the movement is just a one-sided analysis. Indeed, despite the huge media offensive against Jean Luc Melenchon that labelled him and his party as extreme or antisemitic for standing up for Palestine, his party is still the leading one inside the NFP. Of course, the PS has recovered some of their support – they always retained a local base – but they are still facing a strong challenge to their left, which did not exist a decade or so ago. The PS was not able to resist the fairly radical action programme adopted by the NFP. Today it is important because La France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed, led by Melenchon) is arguing that this programme should be the basis of any new government that the NFP leads.

This week the big issue is what next. There is no working majority for any of the three political blocs in parliament. Normally, the president approaches the biggest party or coalition to nominate a new prime minister. The current Macronist prime minister has already tendered his resignation pending a new order. Clearly, the non-LFI components of the NFP are not in favour of Melenchon as prime minister, despite him being the leader of the biggest party inside the NFP. Leaders of the Ecolos, like Tondelier or Rousseau, CP leader Roussel, as well as the moderate Glucksmann who is aligned with the PS, are calling for a discussion and vote involving all the NFP MPs. Hollande will also be using his influence to stop Melenchon. Olivier Faure, PS leader, has said a name will go forward to Macron by the end of the week.

Challenges for Melenchon and the NFP

Melenchon himself is a problematic leader. He purged a number of his dissident MPs at the start of the campaign, like Alex Corbière and Danielle Simonnet, who are certainly not ‘rightists’. They defied him and stood, eventually winning their seats. Melenchon has never really allowed democratic structures inside the LFI. So a certain reluctance to put him forward as Prime Minister is understandable. Corbière used his appearance on TV after the vote to raise the issue of democratic accountability inside the LFI. François Ruffin, another LFI dissident with a big national profile, has said he will no longer sit with the LFI group in parliament. He has presidential ambitions.

Macron’s strategy will be to try and set up some sort of emergency national coalition detaching moderate components of the PS and the Ecolos. This is not straightforward as these people have opposed his reactionary social policies on pensions and the like. If they got into bed with Macron, it would be a political gift to the LFI. At the moment, the LFI are emphasising the action programme that all the NPF signed up to. It is a good basis for further mobilisation, as the statement by the NPA points out.

Glucksmann and others, on the other hand, are talking idealised scenarios of giving the parliament back to the people, apparently over and above the political parties. He waffles about a new politics, inventing a new political culture. Whatever happens, it is clear there will be new fissures and debates between and within the components of the NFP.

The Rassemblement National and Future Prospects

Although the RN has been pushed back, their position has still been strengthened compared to the previous parliament. An unstable period with no majority and various stitch-ups means they can frame it as the caste ganging up on the true defenders of French identity. So it could still provide them with plenty of space to build their forces.

One important task for radicals and progressives in this period will be to try and keep up the mobilisation of young people that we have seen in the NFP campaign. Le Pen and its youthful leader, Bardella, have been successful in winning a lot of young people. Mobilising progressive young people can eat into that support. Maintaining the neighbourhood NFP structures developed in the campaign would be one way of doing this.

Macron’s position has been weakened. The vote against the RN is not an expression of support for his policies, which have in fact made the bed for Le Pen. It cannot be excluded that down the line he will be forced to call early Presidential elections. Although it is a few years away, the question of candidatures, including Melenchon, will not be far from the political debate. Macron cannot stand, and it is questionable whether Macronism without Macron will remain a viable option.


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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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