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April 24, 2012

France, Racism and Marine Le Pen

By Spear's

That Marine Le Pen should win one in five votes is a terrible indictment of French politics today

That Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party and power-suited reactionary, should win one in five votes is a terrible indictment of French politics today. Marine is altogether more polished, both physically and politically, than her bulldog father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, but her underlying messages are just as ugly: her pledge to reduce immigration to 5 per cent of current levels is both unrealistic and based on racist ideas of what it means to be French.

And yet her success is as much down to the shameful political manoeuvring of Sarkozy as her undeniable political skill. In seeking to outflank Marine, Sarkozy has shifted political debate rightwards and helped foster the kind of atmosphere where racist pronouncements on preserving French identity have gained a degree of political acceptability.

Policies like the burka ban and prohibition on outdoor prayers (which disproportionately affected Muslims) served no other purpose than to win votes from a populace who feel threatened by Islam. While only a small minority are directly affected by the legislation (it is estimated that only a couple of hundred women in France wear the burka), it sends out a deeply harmful message to ordinary Muslims. The deportation of Roma from France showed a similarly shocking willingness on the part of government to play to voters’ unfounded prejudice and to discriminate against minorities.

Of course elected leaders have to engage with the concerns of the populace, but this doesn’t mean that they should pander to general ignorance and unfounded fears. I hope the French presidential election will serve as a reminder to British politicians of the dangers of seeking to gain ground from the far right.

In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, high unemployment, austerity, rapid social change and a fear of terrorism may all contribute to a rise in the popularity of the far-right, with its comfortable black-and-white views on immigration and Islam. That means it is more important than ever that the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems refuse to engage with the racist fringe of British politics, and are robust in their defence of Britain as a multicultural, pluralist, tolerant society.

If Marine Le Pen’s considerable share of the French vote is to serve any good purpose, it is as a reminder to others of the danger of courting the far right.

Read more by Sophie McBain

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