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The mainstream Right has never been able to overcome its in-built structural faults. Following the departure of de Gaulle it has been based on a shifting alliance between hereditary enemies, the heirs of Gaullism on one side and on the other the representatives of industry and big business — pragmatists whose families frequently did very well under Marshal Pétain. Its lack of clear identity is reflected in its frequent changes of name — most recently it has been known as Les Républicains. Without any principles in common, the Right has been driven by self-interest and the promotion of free market capitalism, and has settled for leadership by the most agile operator. It is run rather like a predatory animal pack, with the new leader devouring the old. Chirac devoured Giscard and Raymond Barre. Sarkozy devoured Chirac, Juppé and de Villepin. Fillon attempted to devour Sarkozy but his electoral failure has left the way clear for Sarkozy’s resurrection.

The failure of the mainstream parties to control immigration and defend France’s expensive social model in an era of globalisation has left the way clear for the “far-Right” (or “radical Right”, as the movement prefers to describe itself) National Front. Although the party has never won enough National Assembly seats to legislate, it won the 2014 European elections and has become dominant on France’s northern and eastern borders, and along the Mediterranean coast. Under Marine Le Pen it has abandoned its founder’s homophobia and anti-Semitism and concentrated on a programme of xenophobic nationalism and racist opposition to immigration that has the support of one-third of the electorate. Marine Le Pen has increasingly cast herself as a neo-Gaullist, a move that has been indignantly rejected by the General’s grandson, Yves de Gaulle, who has said that the National Front actually represents “those who fought against de Gaulle, stripped him of his nationality, condemned him to death and tried to murder him several times as he was founding the Fifth Republic”.

But Marine Le Pen’s 10 million votes in the second round, added to the fact that a further 16 million electors were prepared to run the risk of her victory by abstaining, is a measure of her success.

Politically France is in limbo until next month’s legislative elections. Without a majority in the National Assembly the president is impotent. Macron, who won the presidency without a political party, is being talked up in a silk-smooth media operation. “The youngest French president since Napoleon” is trying to stitch together a majority by recruiting candidates from all strands of opinion and walks of life. “Civilians”, that is men and women without any political experience or proven talent, are prioritised. No one who has already been elected three times is welcome. But what is Macronisme? No one can be sure whether the new president is a man of the Left (the former Socialist minister), a man of the Right (the former investment banker), or just another brainy oligarch remodelled as “the man of the future”. Meanwhile routine inquiries as to how his campaign was funded, or the extent of his personal fortune, have been indignantly rejected by Macron as “intrusive”.

In the stampede to climb onto the Macron bandwagon his disciples, the would-be architects of the new France, may be overlooking some rather important people — the 56 per cent of the electorate who either voted for Le Pen or declined to vote at all and so, by a majority of more than six million, made it clear that, whatever they might disagree about, they were united in their opposition to Macron. On the day after his election the first protest demonstrations marched to the Place de la République. Led by CGT union organisers they were chanting, “We haven’t elected a president, we’ve elected an industrial boss.” In the streets of Paris it was business as usual. 
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