The Big Three. After Brexit and Trump, is Marine Le Pen next?

In the aftermath of Trumpageddon, one story provided some much-needed comic relief from the feeling that, to quote Peep Show's Mark Corrigan, "Everything's just completely fucked." On 9th November, it emerged that if you had placed a £10 accumulator bet on Leicester City topping the premiership, Brexit winning and Trump being elected President, then you'd have bagged yourself a frankly outrageous £30 million.

However, this isn't the 'Big Three' we should be most concerned about. The real 'Big Three' hasn't happened yet: Brexit, Trump and a win for Marine Le Pen, the Front National's candidate, in France's Presidential elections next May. Unfortunately, this triple threat carries considerably lower odds than the former.

On Remembrance Sunday, Le Pen, the self-dubbed 'Madame Frexit', claimed on The Andrew Marr show that Trump's win had bolstered her campaign: it had "made possible what had previously been presented as impossible" and, shamelessly latching onto anti-establishment sentiment, expressed her hope that the French people would "upend the table round which the elite are dividing up what should go to the French people." Even if 2016 has made us question everything we thought we knew about politics, it's taught us all one thing: expect the unexpected. Six months ago, we had Brexit. We've had Trump. Now people are asking if a victory for Le Pen's Front National is set to the be the next episode in this increasingly unpredictable saga.

Who is Marine Le Pen and what does her party stand for?

Founded in 1972 by Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front National is France’s far-right political party. The similarity in name with Britain’s own, now defunct, National Front is no coincidence. One of their central policies is facilitating France's withdrawal from the EU, making them effectively UKIP à la Française.

Alongside the predictably narrow-minded protectionism and hard-hitting foreign policy, her position on immigration is particularly firm. On the Marr show, she said: "We are not going to welcome any more people, stop, we are full up!" Knowing this, you'd have imagined that Mr Brexit himself ('Nige' Farage) would be chomping at the bit to get into bed with Le Pen - only figuratively of course. However, even Farage has been keen to distance himself, claiming that her immigration policy is driven by its "longstanding antipathy to significant groups."

The FN sell themselves as the party that will stand up for French republican values and the traditional way of life, purportedly under threat from immigration and the influx of different cultures and religions.

Once widely despised as a party, when Marine became party leader in 2011, she worked to repair the party's demonised reputation. This started with kicking out her hugely unpopular father after he dismissed the Holocaust as a mere 'detail' of history. Marine's introduction as leader began with her refuting any anti-Semitism amongst the party which managed to earn her 13.5% of the Jewish vote in 2012's presidential election. Through focusing more on economic issues, frequent media appearances and her image as a relatively young, smiling, blonde mother, Marine represents a more appealing candidate than her loony old xenophobic Pa.

Why might we be looking at President Le Pen come next May?

Last Sunday was the first anniversary of the Paris attacks that left 137 dead and 368 wounded - an event that, along with the Charlie Hebdo and Nice attacks, shook France. The situation provides the perfect climate for far-right politicians to play off the fear, paranoia and desperate desire for stability. Increasing anti-multicultural sentiments play right into the FN's hands. This summer's burkini-gate is ample proof: many southern mayors unlawfully outlawed the burkini largely due to the fears of their culture being threatened.

Brexit and Trump have told us a variety of things. Firstly, that anti-establishment, populist politics is on the rise. It's almost undeniable that the two events are interlinked: Brexit showed the world that the disillusioned, disenfranchised masses could rise up against the elites and win, giving Trump and his supporters further impetus. However, is that momentum enough to propel Le Pen to victory? A telling indicator was that post-Trump bookies dropped the odds.

Both Brexit and Trump's win saw people reject the status quo, instead opting for action and change. Marine Le Pen is undeniably the candidate for change. She's offers dramatic change in comparison to current President, François Hollande, statistically one of the most unpopular presidents ever.

Who is there in opposition? On the one hand you've got Nicolas Sarkozy for the UMP, former president (2007-2012) and cynically jumping on the anti-immigrant, nationalistic bandwagon. Whilst in the other corner you've got Alain Juppé, very much an establishment candidate. In such a difficult time, it should be obvious how Le Pen can seem like an appealing candidate for some; she's supposedly offering stability, strength and independence.

What chance has she actually got of winning?

Pollsters predict that Le Pen will make it through the first round of voting, only to lose to the other candidate, most likely either Juppé or Sarkozy. The French electoral system has two rounds of voting, the first with multiple candidates and the second with the top two candidates from the first. A BVA poll found that Le Pen would win between 25-29% of first round votes only to lose in the second round by 30% to Juppé or by 12% to Sarkozy.

These polls were recorded before Trump's victory and the worldwide hysteria that ensued. Trumpageddon will have one of two results. Either it will, as Le Pen hopes, encourage those tempted by her anti-establishment pose. Or, conversely, the sheer scale of the shockwave could put people off, making a moderate, centre-right victory more probable.

The two-round electoral system, which lends itself to tactical voting, could throw a spanner in the works for Le Pen. Already there has been talk of left-wing supporters voting for Sarkozy in order to avoid a final pairing with Le Pen, forcing voters to pick the lesser of two evils. This wouldn't be the first time tactical voting has scuppered the FN: last December, cooperation between different parties resulted in the far-right party winning 27% of the vote but no seats.

As a good French friend cynically said: perhaps what France needed was 5 years of Le Pen and then see whether they still felt the same way.

2017 is shaping up to be the best opportunity Marine Le Pen and her party have ever had of gaining power. A spokesman for Ladbrokes declared 2016 “the greatest year for upsets in betting history", so who knows what 2017 will bring?


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About the author

Despite sharing the company of Rimbaud, Voltaire and co. for the third year in a row, Alec's real passion lies in writing. When the French degree permits it, he can be found scribbling away for a variety of publications, including The Spectator's Coffee House blog, Spiked-Online and - oh, how could he forget? - Disclaimer Mag!

A self-professed bon vivant, Alec is currently busy sunning himself in the South of France, whilst gleefully perusing the bountiful array of vin on offer. He's also been known to dabble in unscrupulous cheese-pairing. 

Follow Alec on Twitter.

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