Thursday 26 April 2018

Sarkozy fails to convince far-right vote

Parties use May Day to rally support ahead of Sunday's presidential election run-off

Nicolas Sarkozy arrives on stage at Trocadero square to deliver a speech during a campaign rally in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris May 1. Photo: Reuters
Nicolas Sarkozy arrives on stage at Trocadero square to deliver a speech during a campaign rally in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris May 1. Photo: Reuters

John Lichfield

THE deep fractures in French society revealed by the presidential election campaign took raucous, physical form yesterday in rival May Day demonstrations of left, right and far right.

Five days before the second round of an election that he is expected to lose, President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed a controversially named "real work" rally at the Place Trocadéro, across the river from the Eiffel Tower. More than 100,000 well-heeled people packed into the square – a dangerous number for a relatively small space but an impressive show of middle-class support for the President.

On the other side of the city, a traditional May Day march by trades unions turned into a joyous, and presumptuous, wake for the Sarkozy era. Some marchers carried banners stating: "I'm a real worker". Others sang the Chant des Partisans, the hauntingly beautiful song of the wartime resistance.

This was a reference to Mr Sarkozy's phrase "vrai travail" which was first coined, according to the left, by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in 1940-44.

Earlier, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, announced she would cast a "blank" ballot rather than vote for either Mr Sarkozy or the Socialist front-runner François Hollande on Sunday.

Ms Le Pen, who came third with 17.9 per cent of the vote in the 10-candidate first round on 22 April, led the annual National Front march through Paris to celebrate Joan of Arc Day. Afterwards, she addressed 10,000 supporters in front of the ornate façade of the Paris Opera – a rare case of a stout lady singing outside rather than inside the building.

Despite strenuous efforts by Mr Sarkozy to appeal to NF voters in the last 10 days, Ms Le Pen dismissed both the President and Mr Hollande as identical spokesmen for a pro-European "political elite" who offer only "false hopes and new disappointments".

She said her first-round score was "just the beginning" of a revolt by the "patriotic... real people of France against the EU and against the IMF... and against uncontrolled immigration". Mr Sarkozy's rhetoric has become scarcely distinguishable from that of the NF in recent days. He says the most important single issue in the campaign is the rebuilding and protection of "frontiers" to stop French "history and civilisation" being wiped out by Europe, immigration and globalisation. His Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, caused offence yesterday by suggesting Marine Le Pen "unlike her father" is "someone we can speak to".

Not a single NF marcher questioned yesterday said they would consider voting for Mr Sarkozy this weekend – but these were mostly party die-hards rather than occasional far-right voters. The latest opinion polls before the two-candidate, second-round vote show a slight shift towards Mr Sarkozy but Mr Hollande leads by six to eight points.

Whatever the similarities in rhetoric, there remains a social and political gulf between the National Front and Mr Sarkozy's UMP party. Although Ms Le Pen claims to have cleaned up the NF's act, the party security service yesterday consisted of brutal-looking men with shaven heads and leather jackets, just as it did in the days of her father, Jean-Marie. The marchers chanted "France for the French" and "Nous sommes chez nous (we are in our own home)" and "Communistes Assassins". The far-right newspapers carried headlines like: "Let's produce French people from other French people."

On the "Nuremberg rally scale", the crowd at President Sarkozy's meeting was more genteel but far more numerous. The pedestrian tunnels beneath the square became so jammed with Sarkozy supporters the Metro station closed to prevent an accident. Mr Sarkozy's campaign boasted 200,000 people at the rally. The French media estimated 100,000 – itself an impressive turnout for a supposedly lost cause on a sunny bank holiday afternoon.

To roars of approval, President Sarkozy attacked the trades union movement as too political and not sufficiently patriotic. "Put down your red flags and work for France," he said. For someone who appeals constantly to France's history, Mr Sarkozy has a shaky sense of history. Using the Vichy phrase "real work" was almost certainly clumsy rather than deliberately provocative. In his last open-air rally last month, he spoke from the exact spot where Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793.

Yesterday, the podium for his "real work" rally was erected a few metres from the viewpoint towards the Eiffel Tower where Adolf Hitler was filmed on his only visit to Paris in June 1940.

Independent News Service

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