Europe breathes as French far right pushed into third place

This time last week it was all smiles from French fascist leader Marine LePen. This week the smiles had shifted from the right to the left cheek as France rallied to defeat National Rally (RN) in the second round of the general election.

National Rally, aided and abetted by proportional representation, had won a resounding victory in the first round taking over one-third of the vote and pushing Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble alliance into third place. A frantic week of negotiations followed in which left groups who usually prefer to ignore each other, agreed a common programme. At the same time, despite Macron’s absolute hatred of the left Ensemble, which had been an embarrassing third in the first round, agreed to a policy of withdrawing candidates to allow a clear choice between the left/centre and the right. In most cases that was a simple left v right choice as Ensemble had done so badly first time around. Given that choice France chose the left. Though plenty of French continued to choose the right.

Current predictions, as counting continues and the intricacies of proportional representation are calculated, give the hastily convened New Popular Front (NPR) 177-192 seats with Ensemble on 152-158. National Rally which had anticipated being the government of France have ended up with a projection of 138-145. In further complications, a legislature of 577 seats requires 289 for a majority. To be fair, majorities are few and far between in countries with PR and elections are merely precursors to the horse trading that follows.

NPR is an alliance of the Socialist Party, France Unbowed (led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon), Greens and Communist Party. Although France Unbowed are the biggest grouping, with 73-80 seats, it is unlikely that the other parties are going to allow Mélanchon to be prime minister. Ensemble, who will hold the balance of power, have to decide who to support. The leading group for Ensemble is Renaissance, the party of Macron, who with 95-98 seats may feel that they should lead the government. Having said that Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has offered his resignation but with the caveat he was prepared to serve,  “as long as duty demands”.

And, sure enough, Macron, who as President appoints the Prime Minister, has refused his resignation. Quite what Macron is playing at is unclear but it certainly looks from the outside that he is being driven by his hatred of the left, rather than any concern for the people of France. Provoking a constitutional crisis on the flimsiest of pretences – the Olympic Games – is just political foreplay to frustrate the left bloc in the hope that they will turn on each other.

Rainbow Murray, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera: ““His party has fewer seats than it had before, but it’s still strong enough relative to the left for it not to be obvious for him to stand down either. So I think there are going to be some quite tense negotiations.”

French lessons

The French legislature election has been welcomed as a victory for the Left. But what kind of victory is it when the far right achieve their best ever result? While we can rejoice in the news that the left alliance is the largest group and RN was third behind Macron’s centrist bloc, Le Pen is poised for a serious challenge in the next presidential election.

Macron called the election in the mistaken belief that people would turn to the centre. Instead the left and the right have both emerged stronger than before. The left alliance is a very loose affair of previously warring factions that came together with the single aim of stopping the far right. Will the alliance hold or crumble now the immediate threat has passed?

Socialists everywhere should support the hard line taken by Mélenchon not to compromise with the centre. In the past this has caused alienation and disillusion and led to the far right presenting itself as the radical alternative. And when push comes to shove, centrists will always embrace the right to prevent a socialist victory. Only the socialists can stop the fascists.

For many in the UK, coming just days after the election of our own putative Macron, the defeat of RN is being seen as a precursor to what will happen to Reform. In other words, there is nothing to worry about because we can rely on the electoral system to favour the left against the right. But, we need to be clear that what caused the renaissance of the far right was that Macron, a popular President with a massive mandate, refused to take them on.

In typical centrist fashion Macron’s hatred of the left proved to be a bigger factor in his thinking that his fear of the right. Even this election was called not so much to destroy the right but to assert the authority of the centre over the left. That his move backfired spectacularly should not blind us to the reality of what happened. Centrists, like Macron and Starmer, are far more comfortable in the company of the right, particularly if they clean up their image, than they are with the left. Starmer’s main pre-occupation since being Labour leader was to drive the left from his party.

Macron has run into trouble, however, not because of a defect in his personality but because he failed to tackle the French economic crisis. He was perfectly happy to put up the pension age, to reduce benefits, to take on workers, to reduce public spending. Like all good centrists, intent on making a failing capitalism deliver, he turned on the working class and the most impoverished. Since becoming PM Starmer, and his Chancellor Rachel Reeves, have made it clear that their policies will be those that any self-respecting conservative could sign up for: more prisons, attack immigrants, privatise the NHS further, and put house building entirely in the hands of private companies.

Like Macron, Starmer has already shown his disdain for the public sector and for anybody who takes industrial action to improve their conditions. Reeves has made it her business to attack the poor declaring that those who can work, should work. Regardless of the absence of any jobs for them to take. Reeves is married to Nick Joicey DWP’s Director for Finance. Both she and Starmer have said that they intend to create a hostile environment for claimants which is simply carrying on the work began by their predecessors. Farage waits in the wings to capitalise on the disenchantment of the poor and the disenfranchised.

What has happened in France is worth celebrating but it is hardly the end of the far-right as Marine Le Pen fully intends another run at President in 2026. For socialists to hear The Internationale being sung on the streets of Paris is a wonderful feeling. But in reality the splits in the left meant that they were fighting each other whilst the right was organising. We can sit back and wait for the right to fail or we can organise now to make sure they do, indeed, fail.

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