The French Election Shows Us the Power of Branding

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By Alexander Reid Ross (April 23, 2017)
Marine Le Pen’s popularity at 21% of the electorate is not much higher than her father’s 16.9% in 2002, which earned the Front National their first second round visit. However, her higher stature is due largely to her attempts to soften the FN’s brand by relaxing its stance on homosexuality and Israel, among other things.
Meanwhile, the trouncing of the Parti Socialiste is the damning result of Hollande’s neoliberal austerity politics. Yet Hamond, who carried the weight of that condemnation, represents the PS’s left-most faction. If you want to find a true inheritor of Hollande’s worst, look no further than Macron and En Marche! His skillful rebranding of the status quo would be Justin Trudeau worthy if he was a few more notches to the left—and that’s saying something.
Expect Le Pen’s rebranded image to burn brighter than her father’s old party, but not by much. I’m forecasting around 31% for her in the second round, as pieces of Fillon’s reactionary wing shift to her side.
As François Luong noted, “Macron lacks the party infrastructure to govern.” En Marche will be mostly the “centrists” of Euronext Paris from Republican and Hollande camps, but the French will fight austerity all the way and make France ungovernable.
The best thing the left can do, short of intervening in some grand, spectacular general strike, is line up against fascism in the elections and then resist austerity after. In parliamentary terms, this could look like Mélenchon getting over himself and forging a coalition party to contest the upcoming legislative elections. Such a group would cement infrastructure through local elections and then have a serious chance of defeating Le Pen after five more years of austerity.
It is either this or the defeatist whimper: “Macron in 2017, Le Pen in 2022.” The Republicans may shift back toward the center after Fillon’s embarrassment, but that still might not be enough. On their own, the Socialists in France seem as pathetic as the Dutch Labor Party. There is a new political paradigm emerging and the left, as they say, can let fate guide them or be dragged along by it.

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