Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, French conservatives are no more united than the Left. In fact, they are much less so, as they are a long way from even choosing a leader yet. Candidates are proliferating: as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain JuppÃ© is back, Dominique de Villepin refuses to give in, MichÃ©le Alliot-Marie just entered the fray, and Jacques Chirac is still leaving the option of a third campaign open at the age of 71. The key insight is that the party structure is tenuous, two right-wing traditions exist, and the leading personalities despise each other. It’s like the Borgas with spin-doctors. On the Right, it won’t be anything as simple as an election that decides the issue, because the main party (the UMP, a King’s party set up in 2002 to support Chirac) is really a coalition wrapped around the Gaullist RPR, which has its own leader.
De Villepin, JuppÃ© and the old fella all represent the same thing – the hunt by Jacques Chirac for an alternative to Sarkozy who can be trusted to maintain the social peace and carry on the Gaullist tradition. The problem being, of course, that De Villepin is damaged goods, JuppÃ© is a rush-job and a crook, having just returned from trouble with the law, and Chirac is old, unpopular and has scandals like a dog has fleas. Sarkozy, for his part, represents the heritage of the non-Gaullist “droite classique” and, more importantly, appeals to the cult of America. His argument (everything is terrible and only I, the new young US-style leader, know what to do) and his prescription (free markets and mass surveillance) bear a far closer resemblance to Tony Blair than anything found on SÃ©golene Royal.
But the Chirac side fears that he will either win, and strike down with great vengeance on them, or scare the public to the Left. Hence the snark hunt for a stop-SÃ©go-and-Sarko candidate, which is another way of saying Jacques Chirac.
He was, after all, re-elected because the people didn’t want Lionel Jospin or Jean-Marie Le Pen. Typically of a fat, macho elite, the response to the PS’s choosing a woman candidate is not to review policy but to look for one of their own. Which brings us to MichÃ©le Alliot-Marie, the first woman to be Defence Minister and the latest entrant to the presidential campaign. So far, it’s fair to say that she stands for the Chirac group and her own increased profile from the intervention in Lebanon.
And what’s happening further right still? Well, the FN is doing what it does best, fear-mongering and drum-banging and nurturing Napoleonic schemes of a pan-European hard-right caucus. These usually fail because the parties agree on very little and certainly not on status issues like staff and offices in Brussels. Amusingly, they are reported to have written to UKIP’s Ashley Mole to find out if they wanted to play-not realising that he was forced to quit in disgrace over a little matter of some housing benefit he illegally trousered, not far off two years ago now.
An interesting split seems to be emerging, though, which may have important consequences for the various populist movements across Europe. The increasing tenderness the anglospheric commentators who (mostly) banged the drum for war with Iraq show for Vlaams Belang, LPF and Co seems to be based on a belief that they are secular jihadis dedicated to smashing the Eurabia Threat and upholding Republican (French Republican) values. Naturally, the anglophone far-right despises them for not upholding Republican (Texas) values. Some people – Marine Le Pen, notably – within the movement have fastened on to this. Hence the FN’s astonishing invite of a black comedian, DieudonnÃ©, to their party conference. Not that it goes much further than Marine and Melanie Phillips, though. DieudonnÃ© had to leave in some haste, with the aid of the FN’s goonish security guards, as the delegates turned ugly.
It’s a loss to civilisation that Hunter S. Thompson couldn’t be there to report on this event. More seriously, it shows an important fact-whatever the convenient and publicity-catching nonsense, they are still just the same old racist thugs. A few years ago, it was fashionable for the same liberal-hawk types to worry about the rise of the same politicians on the grounds that they were dangerous anti-semitic swine. Now, we are asked to believe that everyone else is anti-semitic, traitorous, etc and that they are heroic strugglers for Western civilisation. Which happens to be what they think themselves to be. Whether it is wise to take quasi-fascists at their own self-evaluation is left as an exercise to the reader.