Former top Trump aide Steve Bannon told the French far right on Saturday that “history is on our side” as he addressed a National Front party conference that is seeking to bounce back from crushing electoral setbacks.
“The tide of history is with us and it will compel us to victory after victory, after victory,” Bannon, once a powerful figure in the Trump administration and former head of Breitbart News, told the FN conference in its northern stronghold of Lille.
Party head Marine Le Pen, who will wind up the gathering with a speech on Sunday, suffered a bruising loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron in last year’s presidential poll and the party won only eight seats in the general election that followed.
Her poor showing in a final TV debate against Macron raised questions about her fitness to lead one of the world’s biggest economies and in the months since both party and leader have appeared deflated.
Le Pen came to Lille vowing to ditch the tainted FN brand, seen as a key hurdle to winning power, in favour of an as yet unannounced new name.
The party canvassed 51,000 members last year about the name change proposal and on Saturday it emerged just 52 percent had voted in favour among the 30,000 who responded. That compared with 90 percent of respondents wanting a referendum on continued EU membership and 98 percent wanting to reduce immigration in France.
Bannon: ‘I came to Europe as an observer’
‘King of fake news’
Bannon, who has repeatedly expressed support for Europe’s far-right movements, fired the opening salvo at the gathering, even if the head of Macron’s Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, earlier dubbed him “the king of fake news and of white supremacists.”
Bannon said he agreed with Le Pen’s expressed belief that “it is not about left versus right. That’s too simplistic and it’s the way the opposition party, media, has always kept us out of power.
“She described it perfectly: it’s do you consider the nation state an obstacle to be overcome or a jewel to be polished, loved and nurtured?”
Bannon said he was in Europe “as an observer and to learn. And what I learned is you’re part of a worldwide movement that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of it.”
Speaking in Paris before Bannon’s address, former party head Jean-Marie Le Pen, from whom Marine took over the leadership in 2011, dubbed the American’s visit “paradoxical” and “not exactly the definition of ‘de-demonisation’” his daughter has sought to give the party.
Marine Le Pen is running unopposed for a third term and her address Sunday will see her try to turn a page on the anti-Semitic, openly racist party of her former paratrooper father.
“Without a name change we will not be able to forge alliances. And without alliances we will never be able to take power,” she said last month.
This week Le Pen appeared heartened by the strong gains made by the allied anti-immigrant League party in Italy’s election.
Yet her appetite for battle appears dented.
The 49-year-old mother of three told French radio recently she would gladly step aside before the 2022 presidential election if another candidate was “better placed to unite people and help our ideas triumph”.
All eyes instantly turned to her glamorous niece, 28-year-old former MP Marion Marechal-Le Pen.
Marechal-Le Pen, the darling of the FN old guard, withdrew from politics last year but made a high-profile appearance last month at a conservative jamboree in the US, fuelling speculation about a comeback.
Family soap opera
The soap opera squabbles of the Le Pen dynasty have kept French media in thrall.
Jean-Marie Le Pen said that in losing heavily to Macron his daughter had “not been equal to the challenge” a sentiment echoed by many FN members.
Others woes have stacked up since.
Marine has been charged over her party’s alleged misuse of EU expenses and for tweeting gruesome images of Islamic State atrocities.
She also fell out with her former right-hand man Florian Philippot, who went on to form the rival Patriots party.
One of the FN’s two senators Claudine Kauffmann resigned, denouncing « nepotism » in the party in a letter to Le Pen made public Friday. She had earlier been suspended for comparing migrants to “vermin”.
But party members credit Marine Le Pen with massively expanding the party’s support, doubling its score from 5.5 million votes in the 2002 presidential election to 10.6 million, or almost 34 percent, in 2017.
Rematch in Europe?
Le Pen is hoping for a rematch with Macron in next year’s European elections by forming alliances with other eurosceptic parties around the bloc.
At home, she is banking on divisions between pro-Macron centrists and rightwingers tearing his party apart, making the FN France’s biggest party of the right.
Date created : 2018-03-10