Sunday 20 August 2017

Le Pen rallies factory workers to upstage Macron on home turf

French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen smiles with workers in front of the threatened Whirlpool factory in Amiens, in northern France. Photo: AFP
French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen smiles with workers in front of the threatened Whirlpool factory in Amiens, in northern France. Photo: AFP

Rory Mulholland

France's presidential campaign verged on farce yesterday as the two remaining candidates battled it out at a Whirlpool factory, with the far-Right's Marine Le Pen posing for selfies with workers while the centrist Emmanuel Macron drew a volley of boos.

Ms Le Pen upstaged Mr Macron in his hometown of Amiens by making a surprise visit to the factory, which is due to close and move to Poland with the loss of 290 jobs, as he was meeting its union representatives in the town.

Ms Le Pen, who polls indicate will be trounced in the second and final round of the election on May 7, chatted with workers at the gates of the factory, which has come to symbolise the loss of French jobs to plants overseas.

The 48-year-old told reporters that her rival's decision to meet union officials in the town - rather than come to the factory gates - was a sign of someone who was out of touch with the workers.

"Everyone knows what side Emmanuel Macron is on - he is on the side of the corporations," Ms Le Pen said. "I am on the workers' side, here in the car park, not in restaurants in Amiens."

She added: "I am the candidate of workers, the candidate of the French who don't want their jobs taken away."

The factory in Amiens has been seized upon by Ms Le Pen as proof that globalisation is out of control and that "economic patriotism" and the return of national borders is the answer.

Mr Macron, who has been accused of complacency since the first-round result on Sunday, hastily arranged a face-saving visit to the Whirlpool plant in the northern rustbelt, which is Ms Le Pen's political stronghold.

When the 39-year-old former banker got there it looked like he had fallen into a well-planned trap.

Some in the crowd shouted "President Marine!" and booed as he arrived. "It's important not to feed anger but to be up to meeting expectations," he told the hostile crowd.

"Of course there's anger in the country, there's anguish, there's a responsibility to take, that's why I'm here."

He told the workers that the only reason the anti-immigrant and anti-EU Ms Le Pen had come to Amiens was "because I'm here".

He also retorted on Twitter that she had spent "10 minutes with her supporters in a car park in front of the cameras" whereas he had spent "an hour and a half with union representatives and no media".

Mr Macron's visit to the factory came as a Harris Interactive poll showed that 52pc of the French believe that he mishandled the start of campaigning for the run-off.

After winning Sunday's contest with 24.1pc to his rival's 21.3pc, he gave an exuberant victory speech followed by a high-profile party at La Rotonde bistro in Paris, drawing criticism.

Irish Independent

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