Today the first round of the French elections to the 577-member National Assembly will take place, with the second round being held in a week’s time. Given the economic and political turmoil besetting the Eurozone, this election will have particular significance for the future tenor of policy within its constituent states and for the EU more widely.
Hitherto, the Front National has not won a seat in the National Assembly under the current first-past-the post system (under proportional representation it managed to take 35 seats in 1986), but it is estimated that the party could possibly, rather than probably, take up to 8 seats on this occasion. It is in the town of Hénin-Beaumont that the most interesting constituency contest looks set to take place, with Marine Le Pen standing against Left Front leader Jean-Luc Melenchon. Across France the Front National has been scoring between 12 and 18% in opinion polls over the past month, with those from the past week suggesting a level of support between 14 and 15%. However, in Hénin-Beaumont the popularity of the Front National is considerably higher, which coupled with Marine Le Pen’s profile, could result in a win for the party.
Hénin-Beaumont is twinned, rather appropriately given its closed pits and post-industrial malaise, with Wakefield. Even the light industry that replaced mining, notes the BBC, is closing down and moving out, such as in the case of a Samsonite factory which shut five years ago, its jobs being outsourced to Eastern Europe with half of its workforce remaining unemployed today. The ‘enormous factory floor is now home to squatters.’ Clearly, this is not a town imbued with a sense of optimism, its economic plight serving as an indictment of globalist free-market policies. Le Pen’s approach therefore, ought to possess a strong appeal in the constituency.
Traditionally, Hénin-Beaumont has been a Socialist stronghold, but in 2009 the Front National secured first place in its mayoral election with 39% of the vote in the first round, but alas, it was defeated in the second ballot owing to all other candidates standing down and uniting around a left-wing independent Daniel Duquenne. If Le Pen does not take more than 50% of the vote today, it is therefore likely that opposing candidates will once again stand aside and recommend that their supporters unite against the Front National. However, this in itself should not be a cause of despair for Le Pen, for Duquenne’s victory in 2009 was secured by a very narrow margin: 52% to 48%. The most recent test of popularity for the FN in the constituency was the presidential election, and Le Pen came out on top with 35%. Will she therefore be able to break the mould of French politics and win a seat? Such a victory appears to be plausible.
Jean-Luc Melanchon is a visceral opponent of the FN, the Galliawatch blog noting his recent comment that "Our objective remains to defeat the FN, to eradicate it politically, we will do whatever is necessary until we have the last word." (from an interview published in Direct Matin June 5, 2012). His bad tempered totalitarian tenor is accompanied by a vigorous anti-French position as expressed in his recent statement that “There is no future for France without Arabs and Berbers from the Maghreb.” Quite the contrary Monsieur Melanchon, I think that you will find that France will possess no future other than as a mere geographical and historical expression if the demographic inroads made by these North African peoples continues.
Flyers displaying these two statements have been circulating in Hénin-Beaumont, but who has produced them is a matter of uncertainty. It has undoubtedly made the irascible Melanchon furious, but why, given that he has said these things and presumably believes what he has said, should he be angry? The flyers after all, are only informing voters of what Melanchon stands for. One of them, admittedly, is in poor and rather inappropriate taste, featuring a doctored image of Melanchon set against the backdrop of a concentration camp, presumably as a retort to the constant unjust accusations of ‘Nazism’ thrown at the FN (Madonna, the superannuated enfant terrible, apparently made a cheap and inaccurate 'political' point whilst performing in Tel Aviv last week, appearing onstage brandishing an AK47 with a projection of Marine Le Pen with a swastika on her forehead as a backdrop). The other however, is reproduced below and features his quote on Arabs, Berbers and his de facto support for the end of France. It is only fair that the voters know what this man believes, and as such, these flyers fulfil a useful function.
What, if any role, will this negative publicity play in the campaign? Whatever happens, the contest in this French town in desperate need of economic regeneration is going to prove to be a very interesting one.