Translator’s Note: Bruno Mégret is a senior French civil servant, politician, and former right-hand man of Jean-Marie Le Pen until the notorious party split of 1998. The title is editorial.
Is the conflict between Marine Le Pen and Florian Philippot comparable to the FN’s split in 1998?
Certainly not. First of all the causes of this divorce are in no way comparable. Florian Philippot and his president [Marine Le Pen] indeed share the same political choices, notably on strategy and the political program.
In 1998, there was in contrast a profound difference between the strategy which I promoted and that of Jean-Marie Le Pen. For my part, I wanted the Front National to undertake to reach high office and for that it was necessary for Le Pen to stop with his verbal provocations and abandon his controversial references which gave the media arguments to legitimize their demonization. Unlike him, I also thought that we needed to propose alliances with the mainstream right and to organize the party to make it a force capable one day of governing. Jean-Marie Le Pen, for his part, considered these efforts to be useless because he did not want power, satisfying himself with the position of a protester and witness.
Furthermore I had the support a large majority of party cadres and activists, since almost 60 percent of them followed me during the split. Philippot, for his part, is far from having such support. One can even think that, among the causes of today’s crisis, there is the opposition to him on behalf of a large proportion of activists.
What is then the significance of the Front National’s current crisis?
To understand what is happening in the FN, one needs to know that Marine Le Pen inherited this movement even though she did not share its ideas. After a first phase, during which she applied the strategy which had been mine, she undertook to change the Front National’s program to replace, in its priorities, the defense of identity, by a nostalgic sovereignism and a backward-looking social policy worthy of the 1960s. The current situation results from this double misunderstanding or this double sham.
At first, indeed, this new line was not clearly perceived by voters who, exasperated by the problems linked to immigration and disgusted by the political class, massively voted for a Front National which had for them stayed on the line which we had forged for years. But, during the presidential and legislative campaign of last spring, the French began to understand what today’s Front National is and what are Marine Le Pen’s inadequacies. From then, the electorate receded and the voting results have not been up to the hopes of the cadres and activists. Hence the rebellion and the crisis. Hence also Marine Le Pen’s attempt to stigmatize Philippot, not because she is in disagreement with him, but because she wants to use him as as scapegoat to avoid anger against her.
Given all this, what does this mean for the future of an eventual split [which has since occurred with Philippot’s expulsion from the party]?
A solitary adventure by Philippot has little chance of succeeding because he would have only weak activist among activists and his political line would not bring him many voters. On the other hand, he would have the support of the media. And that is another important difference between my action and that of Florian Philippot. Because the latter would have the System’s sympathy, which would use his defection to re-demonize the FN, whereas my initiative, because it would put our ideas on the road to power, was clearly opposed by him. It is not an accident if, just after the split [of 1998] and with an unusual alacrity, the judges decided to grant [Jean-Marie] Le Pen the monopoly of the FN name and logo and if the then-prime minister, Monsieur Jospin, immediately decided to grant state subsidies to Le Pen and this just before the European elections of 1999. Despite this support and despite the [the nationalist-leaning mainstream conservative] Villiers/Pasqua candidacy which mechanically limited out potential vote, the list which I led received only two points less than Le Pen’s.
What would the national Right have become if the results had been the other way around?
In light of the disastrous mistakes committed by Marine Le Pen and given what is happening today in the Front National, it is indeed unfortunate that the results were not the other way around. Because, if the FN which I represented had won and if that party had been present during the last presidential and legislative elections, the national Right would not be in crisis.
No doubt it would not have won but the score which would have been obtained would have given the national Right a credibility and a weight which would have changed the political situation and allowed for every hope in the future.