Front National makes huge gains in French regional vote
France's far-right Front National party was on course last night to make historic gains in regional elections held in a state of emergency just three weeks after terrorist attacks that killed 130.
After a campaign overshadowed by the refugee crisis and security fears in the wake of the Isil attacks in Paris, early estimates suggested the FN had fared even better than expected by coming first in six out of 13 "super-regions" in round one, with the run-off to be held next Sunday.
It won the largest slice of the national vote - around 30pc compared with some 27pc for the Right and its allies and around 23pc for the ruling Socialists, prompting Marine Le Pen, its leader, to declare the FN "without contest the first party of France".
Ms Le Pen was poised to clinch control of the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, France's poorest and once a bastion of the Left, after coming first in round one with almost 40pc of the vote - even higher than expected.
A regional win would be an electoral first for the FN and put the party in a powerful new position, controlling a region the size of Denmark and France's third largest region with six million inhabitants and a budget of €3.3bn.
It would bolster FN claims to have morphed from protest party to one capable of competent governance on local and national level.
Ms Le Pen has already said she will consider victory as the "foundation stone" for a serious run at the French presidency in 2017.
The final outcome next Sunday has national significance as these are the last elections before for the presidential race.
Marine's niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen (25), did even better with 41pc in the vast, wealthier south-eastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, a region of 5.7 million inhabitants and a GDP of more than €150bn.
The party also made spectacular inroads in Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardennes, where Florian Philippot, FN's vice president, came top on almost 40pc.
The gains, if they translate into victories, would be the biggest and latest advance of the far-right in Europe.
The outcome of round one was a major blow for Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the opposition. The Republicans party had hoped to use a landslide victory in a majority of regions as a springboard for winning party primaries next year.
The Republicans and their centrist allies were in the lead in only four regions, including the Paris area, which it has hopes of wresting from the Left for the first time in 17 years.
Mr Sarkozy said: "We must hear and understand the deep exasperation of the French."
He added that victory for the FN would "worsen the situation in France and create dangerous disorder".
The Socialists, who control of all but one region, were heading for a fresh electoral debacle, finishing first in just two regions and looking in serious trouble in Paris.
The Left had hoped that President François Hollande's rise in popularity since the Paris attacks might have bumped up the Left-wing vote.
Indeed, Manuel Valls, the prime minister, called the ballot a "weapon against terrorism".
In the event, it made little difference, with the French apparently more preoccupied by the failure to stem unemployment - at a record 10.2pc - and among the highest taxes in Europe.
Last week Valls and the conservative-leaning national business lobby issued a public appeal this week to stop the National Front's march toward victory.
Le Pen has worked to undo its image as an anti-Semitic party under father and co-founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and has lured in new followers from the left, the traditional right and youth.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe and the exploits of Isil, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, have bolstered the discourse of the Front National.
It denounces Europe's open borders, what it calls the "migratory submersion" and what it claims is the corrupting influence of Islam on French civilization. (© Daily Telegraph London)