By Jane West
A recent by-election in Oise, just north of Paris, has underlined that the austerity policies of Hollande’s French Socialist Party government are not only leading to a collapse in its support, but also to a dangerous growth of the extreme right.
It should also be a wake up call for the anti-fascist movement in the country, which remains weak and divided.
The re-run election for a seat in the National Assembly (due to the 2012 result being declared invalid) was won narrowly by the centre-right UMP candidate in a second round run-off against Marine Le Pen’s extreme right National Front.
The first shock came when that the Socialist Party candidate was eliminated in the first round. The SP’s candidate lost more than half of her 2012 vote in the constituency, dropping from a narrow defeat in 2012 (by 63 votes) to third place with 21.4 per cent of the vote, compared to the UMP’s 40.6 per cent and the NF’s 26.6 per cent.
However, the seismic shock came in the second round. The UMP candidate won by only 800 votes, with 51.4 per cent of the vote compared to the NF’s 48.6 per cent – an unheard of rise in the vote for the NF between first and second rounds of an election.
Two factors lie behind this. First the collapse in support for the SP as the austerity policies of the Hollande government create demoralisation and anger in the electorate. The sharp fall in the SP’s vote was partly due to low turn-out – i.e. its voters stayed home. But some of its support must have migrated to the NF at least in the second round, which is a very worrying sign. One analysis suggests as much as 30-40 per cent of the SP vote went to the NF.
This concern is underlined by the fact that although the SP nationally took its traditional position of calling for a vote for the UMP where it is in a run-off with the extreme right, the local party in Oise refused to do so.
The second factor is the crisis in the UMP that has been on-going since losing the elections last year, with a substantial right-wing current within it openly arguing for rapprochement with the National Front.
Jean François Mancel, the candidate in Oise, has argued for this since 1998, when he claimed ‘the National Front has removed everything from its values that we most object to…’ and therefore the UMP should ‘seize the opportunity’ to do an electoral deal with it.
This sanitisation of the National Front – by sections of the UMP and the local SP – has simply boosted its vote by removing the unity between left and right that its politics placed it outside an acceptable democratic consensus.
The situation throws into stark relief the recent weakness and divisions in the French anti-fascist movement. In response to the Oise result, the French anti-racist, anti-fascist group, MRAP, has sounded the alarm and calls for stepped up mobilisation against the extreme right. Hopefully this is a first step in the right direction.
Failing the future would be bleak.