HE HASN’T even declared his run for Presidency just yet – but in France, many voters are preparing to usher Éric Zemmour into office.
The far-right fringe essayist – known for his fierce views on migrants and the left – has remained level with ideological counterpart Marine Le Pen in recent polls.
He now enjoys a base level of support of around 17 per cent – Le Pen scores just a point or two higher, while Emmanuel Macron sits on 26 per cent, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll.
Zemmour, who feels France has been submerged by migrants, also took aim at the nation’s education system recently, suggesting it was “infiltrated by Marxism, anti-racism, and LGBT ideologies.”
His populist appeal, limited as it is, appears to have broken through to a significant proportion of the French electorate.
Experts suggest that the “novelty” behind his campaign – which is still yet to be officially launched – has aided his rise.
Professor James Shields of Warwick University told Redaction Report: “Zemmour has the advantage of novelty and a certain freshness.
“Though an established media figure and political polemicist, he is campaigning as a non-politician, someone outside the party system, at a time when parties and politicians are increasingly held in contempt in France.”
Le Pen, meanwhile, is seen to have started her shift towards the French political establishment.
Her background doesn’t help with the perception – and what was once an insurgent campaign against Macron is now a tired one.
“By contrast, this is Marine Le Pen’s third presidential campaign, and before that her father Jean-Marie Le Pen fought five campaigns dating back to 1974,” Professor Shields added.
“Though ideologically close to Le Pen in his authoritarian nationalism, Zemmour is the new kid on the block and, for now at least, that is playing in his favour in terms of extensive media coverage and growing public interest.”
Others have suggested that Le Pen, after losing comfortably in 2017 to Macron, has pivoted her Front National party to a more mainstream position to stand a better chance in the second round next year.
She has been forced to reverse that position somewhat – recently appearing at a police station to whip up anti-migration rhetoric – but the electoral damage may already have been done.
“Le Pen has been working for almost her entire leadership of her party on bringing them closer to the political centre, making them more electable, and ditching some of their most extreme ideological baggage (a process known in France as “dédiabolisation” or un-demonising),” Professor Rainbow Murray of Queen Mary University told Redaction Report.
“Zemmour is now openly saying a lot of things that voters of the far-right think but that Le Pen is increasingly unwilling to say.
“Zemmour is gaining some momentum due to his outspoken views that hit home with a certain portion of the electorate, but his views are far too radical to gain mainstream support, so at best he will split the far-right vote and sabotage Le Pen’s prospects of qualifying to the second round of the election as she did in 2017.”
But it also must be remembered that Zemmour has yet to enter the race. If he isn’t on the ballot paper, his potential voters will go to Le Pen or perhaps more likely, stay home.
And while issues of migration and ‘wokeness’ have flourished in the political conversation, they aren’t the only issues that French voters will be looking at for next year’s election.
Dr David Lees of Warwick University said: “I would take issue with the concept that Zemmour is the leading far-right candidate.
“There is a whole process that he must complete before he would be accepted onto the ballot in any case, but more importantly someone like Zemmour does not have a local activist base. He is also essentially a polemicist pure and simple.
“Local issues are going to be of little interest to him. By the same token, issues that have mattered historically for voters for the Rassemblement National will not feature in Zemmour’s campaigning.
“So I would say that Zemmour still has a long way to go.”
Dr David Lees is the co-editor of the journal Modern & Contemporary France.
Professor Rainbow Murray is a Professor of Politics, and Director of Graduate Studies at Queen Mary University.
Professor Jim Shields is an Honorary Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick.
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