MayDay: A Study in Contrasts
May Day in France is always marked by two starkly contrasting events: a march by trade unions commemorating the history of the trade union movement, and a speech by the leader of the Rassemblement National (previously the Front National) at the statue of Joan of Arc in the Place des Pyramides.
This year, the contrast was particularly stark. The labor march degenerated into chaos, Elements of the CGT came under attack by casseurs from the Black Blocs. The event served as an apt metaphor for the chaos that defines the French Left today. The Left is adrift, rudderless, internally divided, and impotent in the face of a rapidly changing world whose contours it seems unable to grasp.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen pitched her appeal to the young, a group of (potential) voters among whom her support has been growing. With her 20-something second-in-command Jordan Bardella at her side, she promised to match the investment of any under-30 entrepreneur with state funds; to exempt the entrepreneur’s business and personal income from taxes for 5 years; and to alleviate taxes on inheritances and parental gifts (details to come). She also vowed to subsidize job training and to offer state aid to young families.
As usual, the RN’s promises came without a detailed accounting, but the target audience was clearly the young, not the older taxpayers who might be called upon to pay for it. For a nice rhetorical flourish, she linked all of these gifts to the young to the memory of the Maid of Orléans, “the heroine who took the first steps toward building a sovereign and independent nation” amid “the chaos that would have condemned the kingdom of France to oblivion.”
More than ever, it would be a mistake to ignore the potency of Le Pen’s appeal to groups that did not historically fall within the ambit of the far right. In 2017, with Florian Philippot, she forged an anti-EU, anti-globalization message that drew in large swaths of the industrial working class, susceptible to her protectionist rhetoric.
When that effort fell short, Philippot was cast out and replaced by Bardella: the cerebral strategist gave way to the more charismatic young orator, and the message shifted from the working class to the young struggling to find an economic foothold. Although the program is now entirely different, there is no sign that it has alienated the working-class adherents the RN picked up in 2017, while there is every indication that the young outside the jeunesse dorée who are sticking with Macron are responding to the new Le Penist message, which purports to be positive and pro-active–investment, education, family assistance–rather than reactive and defensive (trade barriers and withdrawal from the euro, both unrealistic, as Macron mercilessly pointed out in the inter-round debate).
Photo Credit: European Parliament, Plenary debate on terrorism and Paris attacks with Marine LE PEN (ENF), via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The younger people are, the less they vote. This is true in the United States, it is true in France and in many other countries. Further, the young are more likely to change opinion easily, so their support is not necessarily eternal. Many a politician has made the same mistake in many a country.