Ever since the refugee crisis reached its crescendo in the summer of 2015 and a series of horrific and murderous terror strikes struck at the very heart of French society, it appeared as if National Front leader Marine Le Pen would have the ultra-right’s best shot yet of winning the presidency. Her popularity has grown from strength to strength, and with current President Francois Hollande and his Socialist Party with some 20 per cent of popular support, it seemed that by the time the elections roll around next May, the National Front will be rolling out its tent in the Elysee Palace.
Le Pen’s path to the palace, however, has now been made considerably more difficult with the selection on Sunday of Francois Fillon as the centre-right’s candidate. The former prime minister is socially conservative and is an admirer of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and easily beat the more moderate centrist candidate, Alain Juppe. As a practising Roman Catholic, Fillon’s conservative social policies hit a chord with voters and he gained momentum in the final days of the primary rounds with his publication of a book on the dangers of “Islamic totalitarianism” in the wake of terrorist attacks in France. He also has taken a tough line of defending French identity.
In a line of support that is not dissimilar to United States President-elect Donald Trump, Fillon has promised to tackle the French unemployment rate of 10 per cent by doing everything possible to help entrepreneurs.
Fillon’s selection means that voters on the Right will have a candidate who endorses a suitably conservative basket of policies without having to fully embrace those on the ultra-right proffered by Le Pen. In other words, it is possible to turn a good way to the Right, without making a full right-turn.