The barrage holds

Jeremy Harding

Relief, renewed anxiety, several surprises. These are the mixed feelings of a country that voted down the Rassemblement National on Sunday. As the blog’s unreliable narrator on France, I’ve presented readers with poll predictions in earlier posts that turned out to be wide of the mark. That Marine Le Pen’s party would come in third, as it has, behind the Nouveau Front Populaire and Macron’s Ensemble alliance, was a long shot. Turnout in both rounds of voting was about 66 per cent, the highest since President Chirac dissolved the National Assembly in 1997. High turnouts were said by some pollsters to favour the RN, but it wasn’t the case.

The NFP alliance now holds a relative majority with around 180 seats in the Assembly. In second place is Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble – there’s the first surprise – which lost fewer seats than the pollsters anticipated, scraping past 160. In third place comes the RN and its allies – the second surprise – with a little over 140. This is a huge increase on their 89 seats in the previous Assembly – here’s the source of renewed anxiety – but well short of Le Penist hopes for a deluge, which accounts for the relief.

Sunday’s vote was a ‘barrage’ – an electoral show of solidarity against a far-right victory at the polls. It’s becoming a tradition. Left-wing voters had to hold their noses when they voted for Chirac in 2002 against the first serious electoral threat from Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie. They’ve done it again this time around, but as the challenge from the far-right has grown, the habit of voting against your own party’s programme to hold off the far-right has tested the patience of left-wing voters to the limit. When you look at the distribution of seats in the new Assembly, you begin to suspect that traditional voters for the centre-right or newish voters for Macron’s infant alliance were less willing than the left to park their political ambitions in the name of an anti-far-right front.

From this perspective, Macron’s alliance looks to have gamed the ‘barrage’ while the NFP feels entitled to claim a reward for its unequivocal stance. We don’t yet know which parties, if any, in the NFP alliance – La France Insoumise, the Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communist Party – will coalesce as a bloc in the National Assembly or whether they’ll choose to sit separately, as they did in the previous parliament under the banner of NUPES, before it fell apart over the Israel-Palestine question and reinvented itself to defeat the far right. LFI now has more alliance seats than any other party in the NFP (71). It’s followed by the PS (61), the Greens (33) and the Communist Party with nine. This distribution opens up a path for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who heads LFI, to come back into the frame after the NFP advised him to hide under the sofa for the duration of the campaign. He is impatient for power, but the NFP – a broad coalition where an anguished philosemitic, pro-Israel majority prevails – deplores his refusal to call Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Many of LFI’s policies – raising the minimum wage, reintroducing the wealth tax that Macron did away with and recasting it as climate-mitigation revenue – make eminent sense. But the 72-year-old caudillo at the head of LFI is no longer an asset to his party or its programme. Mélenchon, who would like a crack as prime minister, is runner-up monster in France’s demonisation of its political class, with Marine Le Pen and her entourage in first position. Flushed with the improbable success of his party in the second round on Sunday, Macron has instructed his PM, Gabriel Attal, to row back from his offer of resignation and remain at the helm. Acrimony is bound to follow and Mélenchon is likely to stick his oar in.

Presenting itself as the party of frontline defence against migrant incursions, the RN performed well, above all, in the hinterlands of seaboard constituencies, where non-EU citizens breach the coastline: in the post-industrial north-west, with migrant camps moving from one location to another under police pressure, and the Mediterranean, where new arrivals claiming asylum on the beaches of fellow EU states are seen as a threat to civilisation.

In my own landlocked constituency, two hours by train from Paris, the NFP did better than expected but not quite well enough. It was touch and go, but the RN won round two with a slim margin – 50.08 per cent of the vote against 49.92 for the left alliance. In the commune where I’ve lived for twenty years, the RN swept up 63 per cent of the vote against 36 for the NFP candidate – a mild Parti Socialiste member of the coalition accused by her frenzied far-right adversary of police hatred and incitement to violence. Let’s see who strikes the first blow in the village.


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  • 9 July 2024 at 2:57pm
    Graucho says:
    Support for Ukraine will be the litmus test as both Le Pen and Mélenchon are in the Putin camp.

  • 9 July 2024 at 3:09pm
    enfieldian says:
    If “being in the Putin camp” means “not particularly enthusiastic about getting involved in World War III” then that covers quite a few of us, in the UK and in France…

    • 9 July 2024 at 6:35pm
      Graucho says: @ enfieldian
      It was folks who were not particularly enthusiastic about getting involved in World War II that made World War II inevitable.

    • 10 July 2024 at 6:32pm
      IanGFraser says: @ Graucho
      You cannot possibly compare risking a mere WWII-type of war with a nuclear holocaust. Ukraine, or Ukraine's borders, could be worth death & destruction -- that's rational -- but cannot be worth the end of civilization.
      It''s dispiriting, yes, but we simply cannot attack Russia militarily. Like the other nuclear powers, it has a sort of immunity.

    • 11 July 2024 at 1:51am
      Graucho says: @ IanGFraser
      What I am saying is that appeasement will lead to WWIII because the territorial appetite of a character like Putin knows no bounds. He has made no secret of his desire to recreate the Soviet empire. Politicians like Trump, Farage, Le Pen and Orbán simply encourage him in the belief that he can do so with impunity because the West will ultimately chicken out. If not stopped now he will attack a NATO country. Probably by first fermenting Russian separatists in one of the Baltic states. His standard MO. Then what ?

    • 11 July 2024 at 2:18pm
      Delaide says: @ IanGFraser
      Defending Ukraine is not the same as attacking Russia, I would have thought. Also I don’t understand why the necessity of avoiding a nuclear holocaust is the sole responsibility of the West. Is the thinking that Putin is unhinged enough that he’d prefer global destruction, Russia included, to losing face? If it is then we can hardly expect Ukraine to be the limit for the mad man’s ambitions.

    • 11 July 2024 at 9:21pm
      XopherO says: @ Graucho
      No, it was the failure of France and the UK to come to the defence of the democratically elected Spanish government that made the war inevitable. It was not that they did not want to engage against fascist German support of Franco but that the Republicans were on the left, and ultimately that led to Russian involvement in the civil war. Catastrophe. And even today the Western governments hate leftist, however moderate, governments. Particularly the EU masters, which is why some Brits on the left were pretty unenthusiastic about staying in, even though it was always hard to see how coming out would aid the left in any way, as Greece realised. Pace the Beast of Bolsover.

    • 12 July 2024 at 9:24am
      XopherO says: @ XopherO
      I should add that 'appeasement' is a simplistic way of avoiding a real analysis. There was no intervention to stop Hitler because it was hoped/expected he would attack the USSR rather than the West. His treatment of the Jews was tolerated (hello Daily Evil) because of the ingrained antisemitism in US and UK Establishments, left and right. However with the non-aggression pact that dream dissolved and then in the last months there were attempts to bribe Hitler which might only then be called appeasement, but it was too late anyway, and involved sacrificing our Czechoslovak ally and breaking the treaty with them. So it is being used tritely today as a way of avoiding confronting the real problems of escalation and thousands more deaths as Ukraine plays proxy, but Europe is slowly sucked in. That Farridge is probably right about NATO expansion is not helpful now, the deeds having been done (The Aussie PM in about 1996 gave a speech warning what might happen if NATO expanded to Russia's borders. Read it, he was spot on.)

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