It remains theoretically still possible for Marine Le Pen to win the French Presidential election.
The opinions on foreign policy of the conservative candidate François Fillon are close to hers, and her overall programme should in theory be attractive to his conservative Catholic electoral base.
On economic questions – though not on immigration – the opinions of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and of the socialist Benoît Hamon are also closer to hers than to those of the so-called ‘centrist’ front-runner Emmanuel Macron. Logically one might therefore expect their supporters to be more likely to vote for her in the second round than for Macron.
For the record, I suspect that Mélenchon’s late surge in the polls came in part at Le Pen’s expense, and is the reason why Le Pen came second to Macron in the first round. It is striking that whilst Fillon and Hamon have predictably called on their supporters to vote for Macron, Mélenchon has failed to do so. I suspect Mélenchon knows that many of the people who voted for him had previously intended to vote for Le Pen, and are more drawn to Le Pen than to Macron, and will therefore turn on him if he now endorses Macron.
In spite of all this, electoral politics are not logical, and I have to say that I think the prospects of Le Pen winning the second round look to me very slim.
Elections in France to a great extent are still governed by the two great events of modern French history – the 1789 Revolution and the Second World War – making it very difficult to see how someone who has been successfully painted an ‘extreme right fascist’ can win, unless there is a fundamental sea-change of opinion in French society. Since I don’t think that such a fundamental sea-change of opinion in French society has happened, it still seems to me far more likely that the large majority of Fillon’s, Mélenchon’s and Hamon’s voters will vote for Macron in the second round to ‘keep the fascist’ out.
That all but guarantees Macron victory in the second round, probably by a large margin. That is what the opinion polls have been saying for months, and I am sure they are right.
Realistically, the prospects of Marine Le Pen winning this election have always been slim. The French regional elections in December 2015 showed that her Front National was still up against an effective electoral ceiling, with too many French voters prepared to vote tactically to prevent it winning for it to achieve a breakthrough.
That always made Marine Le Pen’s chances of winning this year’s Presidential election look slim. Indeed I have heard that Front National officials have privately acknowledged the fact, and have been saying that Marine Le Pen’s strategy in this election was not so much to win the Presidency – which she always knew was beyond her reach – but to increase the size of her electoral base so as to prepare for a more effective challenge in 2022.
Returning to the present election, one doesn’t have to approve of the French establishment (I don’t) to admire their skill.
Back in the autumn François Fillon, with his dangerous calls for rapprochement with Russia, looked a certain bet for the Presidency. He has been derailed by a transparently concocted scandal and a phoney candidate. The skill with which Macron – the ultimate insider and defender of the status quo – has been passed off as an ‘outsider’ and an agent of change has been nothing short of astonishing.
In saying this I should stress that I strongly doubt the ploy has actually fooled anyone. The reason Macron is now set to become President of France is not because anybody was genuinely fooled by the transparently false propaganda created around him. It is because a sufficiently large number of French voters wilfully colluded in the deception, with the propaganda being their excuse – not their reason – for voting for Macron.
That shows that for all the talk of malaise in France there is still a sufficiently large number of French voters with a stake in the current system to preserve the status quo, thereby keeping it going at least for a while longer.