Indeed, the times they are a changin’–at the London Review of Books:
15 December 2015
The defeat of the Front National in every mainland region on Sunday has given France a welcome respite from extremity. Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, which has taken seven out of 12, is in good spirits, as it was on the eve of the contest. Surveying the field before round one, a centre-right MP concluded that François Hollande’s party had done two things well: stealing Sarkozy’s ideas and losing the socialist vote. ‘If you agree with Gramsci,’ he said, ‘it’s an intellectual victory for the right that will end in electoral victory.’..
With mixed feelings about the results, I turned to France’s recent interest in Antonio Gramsci, an odd name to hear in a right-wing campaign manager’s soundbite [more on Gramsci here]: I don’t recall Sarkozy and his people using it when he was president, or Chirac and his entourage for that matter. It came up in a piece by the French MEP Michèle Rivasi (Europe Ecology-The Greens), who suggested in the Huffington Post that the FN were indeed a bunch of ‘monsters’ breeding in the muggy interval between the death of the ‘old world’ and the birth of a new one.
But Gramsci’s dictum about monsters is a versatile and overused quotation. Support for the Front across the country suggests it’s now part of an ‘us’, rather than a hideous ‘them’. In any case, the big beasts of the Fifth Republic have grown slowly, and seem less monstrous than they actually are, after years of noisy inertia, shifting centrist policies towards structural unemployment of around 10 per cent, ‘secular’ racialism and European austerity, based less on an appeal to thrifty citizens than a fixation in Brussels with ‘stability and growth’, of which Germany and France were the main advocates (and then, before you could blink, the biggest violators of the rules they’d approved). The machines of centre-left and centre-right are like two Graeae passing the same eye and the same tooth from one to the other as they rotate through office: tunnel vision, no bite, and anything to stop the third sister having a turn. What sense does it make to say that one mainstream party is achieving hegemony – I guess that’s what’s meant by the reference to Gramsci – because its ideas have infiltrated the other? Their styles of government, along with substance, have been hard to tell apart for years.
The FN’s followers, like the party’s notables, openly despise the ‘system’ that has blocked their path for the second time in 13 years. They don’t look much like lawless, terrifying people as a demographic tranche, but the stewards at a big FN rally are a different matter, and Le Pen’s most worrying admirers, further than far right, must be growing sick of the electoral road…
The battle begins again any minute, as the parties prepare for next year’s presidential, where Le Pen is tipped to get through to round two…
And the Donald! The Donald!