The Guardian view on French politics: the great moving right show | Editorial

1 month ago 28

The tone of France’s presidential election campaign suggests a society that is becoming increasingly illiberal

Since the election of Emmanuel Macron as president in 2017, it has been tempting to view French politics in somewhat Manichean terms. Four years ago, Mr Macron won by (comfortably) beating Marine Le Pen in the second round runoff. Until this autumn, it seemed extremely likely that next spring’s election would be a rematch. Division and disarray on the French left, and the continuing slump of the centre-right Républicains party, left voters with a seemingly stark choice: centrist liberalism or far-right nationalism. This normalisation of the Le Pen dynasty was bad enough. But recent polls suggest a more complicated picture; and from a progressive standpoint, perhaps a more disturbing one.

The xenophobic right has found a new star in Éric Zemmour, an author and television pundit who made his name on the French equivalent of Fox News. Mr Zemmour has yet to officially declare his candidacy, but this month he outstripped Ms Le Pen in the polls for the first time. Ms Le Pen has been attempting to woo more moderate voters by toning down the inflammatory rhetoric of her party, Rassemblement National (RN). This has given Mr Zemmour an opening. His extreme Islamophobia, culturally supremacist language and focus on immigration have made him a magnet for those disillusioned by Ms Le Pen’s detoxification strategy. Cultivating an independent, erudite persona, he has also been able to attract ultra-conservative Catholics from Les Républicains who would never vote for the RN.

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