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Thirty year march of the Front National

Marine Le Pen is frighteningly close to making the unthinkable happen in France.
Fresh face on the family firm: Le Pen has overseen an increase in FN votes in local, national and European elections

Could France fall to the extreme right for the first time since Vichy? Until recently such a thing seemed impossible. Now it feels as though it could happen. In January, a YouGov poll found 38 per cent of French people thought a victory for Marine Le Pen—the leader of France’s far-right party, the Front National (FN)—was “probable” despite no poll of voters predicting she will become president. Why this gap between what so many people, including myself, know to be likely and what we believe?

Despite the evidence, I fear Le Pen could win. Not just because Brexit and Trump show anything is possible, but because for the first time in the Fifth Republic, France’s crash barrier against the lure of extremism—the electoral system—no longer feels reliable.

Introduced under Charles de Gaulle in 1962, the two-round system was designed to keep extremists out of power. Candidates must either receive an absolute majority or go to a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes. Typically, French electors use the first round to vote with the heart—expressing things like hope, desire, rage or downright blood-mindedness—and the second round to vote with the head. Something about the way in which Marine Le Pen has infused the national conversation with despair makes me doubt the barrier will work this time.

Lucy Wadham has lived in France since 1987. Her study of the French, “The Secret Life of France,” is published by Faber
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In Prospect’s April issue: Ross McKibbin, John Curtice and Lisa Nandy examine the state of the Labour Party and question its survival at the next general election. McKibbin takes a long view and suggests that the party’s problems started long before Jeremy Corbyn, Curtice argues that breaking the party is unlikely to go as well as some may think and Nandy argues that tackling unaccountable power could help restore faith in the party. Nicholas Timmins says the NHS has always experienced financial crises so is this time any different? Lucy Wadham charts the rise of France’s Front National. Also in this issue: Owen Hatherley explores Edinburgh’s architectural conundrum, Freya Johnston on Jane Austen and Avi Shlaim on the tragedy of Yitzhak Rabin—the last best hope for peace.