Amongst the celebrations by the mainstream media and political establishment, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Front National crashed horrendously during today’s second round of French regional elections. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it will sting that Marine Le Pen’s party didn’t manage to pick up any regional seats, a lot of this is down to the political establishment’s games over the past few weeks, where they’ve formed unofficial coalitions, stood down candidates for each other, and rolled out religious and community figures to effectively threaten voters with a view of what a Front National France would look like.
Sound familiar? British (and some American) readers will see the parallels between the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) performance at the last General Election, and the Front National’s performance today. (I’m always asked to be careful comparing these two parties – so bear in mind there are some differences).
UKIP achieved 4 million votes at the General Election, and walked away with just one, very independent, Member of Parliament.
The Front National have so far garnered 6.5 million votes (they’re still counting as I write this) and are believed not to have won a single seat.
France 24 rightly observes – though it buries the fact in its live blog – that the party “has already beaten its previous record of votes, set at the 2012 presidential election”, adding: “It may have lost this election, but it picked up a whopping 6.45 million votes (and they’re still counting)”.
No doubt the British and international newspapers will rejoice in the morning: “Front National trounced” etc etc – in fact the BBC is predictably already at it.
But Marine Le Pen was right to point out that it will be very difficult to stop her party at this point.
With a base of 6.5 million to build on, she has as much to look forward to as Nigel Farage does – with an EU referendum on the cards, and a UKIP membership base that is actually growing (you heard it here first).