Madonna and Marine le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, are not exactly on kissing terms. During her
Paris concert the singer performed against a background video which at one point showed the politician with a swastika superimposed on her face.
At once Ms Le Pen’s lawyers got to work. A lawsuit for public defamation and insult was filed. A just let her try that again, the message went out. Madonna appeared in Nice. She did not try it again. Marine was still in her video, aimed at promoting tolerance, so I understand, though this time the swastika was missing, a question mark in its place. The inference here, of course, is she or isn’t she? I can’t be sure if Madonna was intimidated by the lawsuit or by the people of Nice, much more pro-Marine than the cosmopolitan capital. So it was nice in Nice!
The conservative Le Figaro, for some bizarre reason, chose to describe the vanishing swastika as a sign of ‘appeasement.’ There is no reason to suppose that Le Pen is a Nazi and every reason why she should object to being associated with a Nazi symbol. Defamation is defamation, something even Madonna recognises, though not, apparently, the editor of Le Figaro.
Image is such a sensitive thing, particularly for Marine, busy updating and modernising the National Front, away from the days of Jean-Marie, her politically antediluvian father, an echo of Vichy in the modern age, or, better said, for those who know their French history, of the infamous Paris collaborationists.
The daughter is not the father; she wants none of this past baggage. The skinhead entourage has gone. The nostalgia for
Vichy and for French Algeria, the vanished paradise of the Pieds-Noirs, has gone. The Front now looks to the front, which is to the future. The right-wing causes are still there, the concern over the effects of mass immigration, the concern over culturally alien elements and the deracination of France is still there. But the Holocaust is no longer a ‘detail of second world war history’, as Le Pen père once said; rather it represents the ‘summit of human barbarism.’
Less macho and less brutish in its political ways, the Front is now appealing to more women voters. Nonna Meyer, a university professor, in a study of French voting patterns argues that the increase support for the National Front can be explained by a shift in the allegiance of women, working-class women in the main. In the first round of this year’s presidential election approximately 30% of women working in non-manual professions voted for Marine, compared with only 13% for her father in 2007.
So, it’s onwards and upwards, possibly through the invisible wall which has traditionally ensured that the far right, and the communist left, has never managed to escape from a ghetto percentage of the vote: fifteen percent here, fifteen percent there, always fifteen percent! Now the heights of twenty do not seem impossibly out of reach.
The new face of the Front is not the ugly skinheads of the past - it’s female; it’s twenty-two-year old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine’s niece and Jean-Marie’s granddaughter, who was elected to the National Assembly in June. A law student, she is the youngest representative in
France’s modern political history.
There is a problem; there is a muttering in the background; there is Jean-Marine Le Pen, hanging around like the ancient mariner. One is tempted to say with fathers like this who needs enemies! In his political dotage, he was recently heard to mumble that his daughter’s moderation on certain issues was due to her petit-bourgeois upbringing. “Marine’s strategy”, he said, “is to give our adversaries as small a target as possible to attack. For instance, all those courageous and dynamic activists who get noticed because they have shaven heads have been pushed aside.”
So, it’s all a front Front, is it? Yes, the blonde tresses in place of the shaved heads, in everyway more appealing, but is it just the same old same old? Personally I think not, not matter what the old Banquo says at the feast. He really is the past; the future might very well be something quite different. There are views than can no longer be ignored in our brave new European world that would brush democracy, along with the Pens, under the carpet of history. I personally believe that the Pen is mightier than the Bureaucrat.