Le Pen’s far-right rebrand off to a rocky start
PARIS – Agence France-Presse
Unveiling plans March 12 to rename the FN the “Rassemblement National” (National Union), the failed presidential candidate said the toxic brand was a key obstacle barring her from power.
Despite claiming a record 34 percent of last year’s vote, Marine Le Pen has emerged weakened from the race against Emmanuel Macron and is badly in need of a comeback.
Web users were quick to point to uncomfortable similarities between her chosen name and the wartime Rassemblement National Populaire (RNP) party which collaborated with the Nazis.
There was also confusion when it appeared that the FN hadn’t secured the legal rights to use the new name, still registered as belonging to one Frederick Bigrat.
Meanwhile Le Pen’s father, booted from the FN for anti-Semitic comments after a long and highly public spat with his daughter, wasted no time in declaring the name change a “political assassination” of the party he founded.
The rebrand will be put to a vote of grassroots members, and losing it would be another blow to a leader who has been struggling to shore up her authority since the election.
The 49-year-old ex-lawyer was elected unopposed for a third term at the helm of the FN on March 12.
But there has been speculation that her telegenic 28-year-old niece Marion Marechal Le Pen -- more hardline than her aunt -- may be poised for a comeback that could undermine her.
Other woes include banking problems and criminal charges for tweeting pictures of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) atrocities and over the alleged misuse of European Parliament expenses.
“The boat has changed its name, but it’s steering in the same direction,” wrote Patrice Chabanet in the Journal de la Haute-Marne newspaper.
Analyst Jean-Yves Camus predicted the party would stick “firmly to the right,” defending traditional “values, patriotism and a deep attachment to France.”
The surprise appearance at this weekend’s party conference of Steve Bannon, former right-hand man to U.S. President Donald Trump, was a boost to Le Pen.
But critics said his speech had undermined her goal of putting a respectable face on the FN, after he told the crowd to “wear it as a badge of honor” if people call them racists.
Like Macron, Le Pen has declared the era of left-right politics over, and her campaign balanced hardline rhetoric on Islam and immigration with tinges of leftwing statist economics.
Since her election defeat some analysts have predicted a possible return to a focus on identity rather than economic sovereignty, popular with the FN’s Catholic southern base.
But her conference speech in Lille offered a continued mixture of the two, urging a return to traditional values while also touting “economic patriotism.”
“To make people forget about the more scandalous aspects of the FN, the name would have to be accompanied by a shift in the program,” said sociologist Sylvain Crepon.
But her offer of an alliance was again officially rebuffed by the rightwing Republicans Monday, despite former minister Thierry Mariani’s suggestion that it was not be such a bad idea.
“It won’t be enough to rehabilitate the National Front,” Republicans party spokesman Gilles Platret said of the rebrand.