21 MARCH 1992, Page 11


Anthony Gibbon discovers that

support for Monsieur Le Pen is much more widespread than supposed

Uzes FOR A provincial lunch party, it was really quite smart. There were a number of elder- ly marquises and comtesses with their elderly husbands, all more or less authen- tic. There were even some elegant Parisians. As usual, everyone talked politics non-stop throughout the meal without lis- tening to a word anyone else said. In the pause while we withdrew to the salon for coffee, the Comtesse d'Untel whispered to her hostess, 'Well, I know who I'm going to vote for!' The two old things exchanged knowing looks. Each knew that the other was going to vote for Monsieur Le Pen in next week's regional elections.

Now, why is that arch-snob, Mme d'Untel, with a house in the rue de Varennes, going to vote for Monsieur Le Pen? Because she's frightened, frightened by the mounting violence in France. Mon- sieur Le Pen has only two planks to his political platform, law-and-order and an end to African immigration. You mustn't say so — and that is why Mme d'Untel whispered — but the rise in violence and the rise in African immigration are part of the same phenomenon. And why mustn't you say so? Because the whole of French culture has accepted the gospel of the Left. To breathe a word against north or central Africans is racist. The Nazis were racist. Ergo, Le Pen is a Nazi and so is everyone who sympathises with him.

Violence in French cities is now so com- mon that it is accepted as a disagreeable but unavoidable feature of life, like cancer or taxes or air-crashes, much in the same way as wartime Londoners adapted their lives to the rhythm of the Blitz. In the high- rise suburbs, gang warfare is endemic. The occasional weekend outburst features mur- derous races in stolen cars, supermarkets sacked and set on fire, and policemen and firemen stoned. Some weeks ago a platoon of 50 urban terrorists ambushed a bus on a regular line on the outskirts of Paris, sprayed the passengers with tear-gas and were only prevented from their intended robbery, murder and arson by a body of police who had been tipped off about the attack. Gangs of central Africans called `Zou/ous' penetrate as far as the esplanade of Les Invalides. Mantes-la-Jolie, a dormi- tory town west of Paris, has closed its state schools to protect teachers from attacks by their pupils. In the supposed provincial calm of Avignon, an elderly friend of mine reported a theft from his car to the police. 'And what are you,' they said, 'at your age doing alone in a car in Avignon?' It was 3.30 on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a quiet part of the old town. We were about to go and dine in our little local town, the sleepiest of places, inhabited by the aged and decayed. 'Don't come,' tele- phoned our hostess, 'Cars have been set on fire and it isn't safe.'

Who are these people who put good French cars to the fire? They are called Jeunes. Of what race? Goodness! You mustn't ask that question because it sup- poses you think (strange and highly improbable though it may appear) that they may be other than native French. And of course, among the Jeunes, there is a pro- portion of native French Voyous who ter- rorise with the best. But everybody knows that when the papers or the television or the radio say Veunes' they mean ... but daren't say so.

And nothing is done. The socialists, ham- strung by their ideology, say that the Jeunes are not to blame. They are young, and boys will be boys. They are out of work, and that, as everyone knows, is the best possible reason for burning down supermarkets. They are 'excluded' from society which means they don't have enough money to buy a Peugeot 605 and must therefore obviously steal or burn one. It's the fault of colonialism, of society, of previous govern- ments, of everything and everyone else, except themselves. So their victims are not really to be pitied because they are victims of abstracts, of colonialism, society, govern- ments of the past and the stars in their courses. In the meantime, while the min- istry responsible urges the police to play football with the Jeunes, Mme d'Untel con- tinues to be convinced that one day we'll all be murdered in our beds.

The Left is, obviously, impotent; but so is the conventional Right. Recently, Mon- sieur Giscard d'Estaing warned ponderous- ly about an 'invasion' from North Africa. Growls from the Left, clicking of tongues from the conventional Right. Monsieur Chirac went further and said that condi- tions in high-rise flats in the degraded sub- urbs were insupportable, made so by the presence of what he politely called `strangers of another culture'. What with the noise of Middle Eastern music pene- trating the flimsy walls, and the smell of Middle Eastern cooking on the landing, French families, he said, were going out of their minds. Did the conventional Right rise up and cheer a leader who had the courage to reveal an unpleasant truth? By no means. There were howls of protest, even from Monsieur Chirac's supporters. He had gone too far. Smells, indeed! He was copying Le Pen. He would lose votes.

Worse, he could be accused of being racist.

Of course Monsieur Le Pen hotly denies being racist. He has nothing against `strangers of another culture'. All he wants is to prevent France being swamped by these agreeable strangers. In fact, everyone knows that, if he had the chance, he'd send the lot of them home and there'd be no question then of the police playing football with them, unless it be of the head-kicking variety. And nearly everybody, except for the committed Left and the 'intellectuals', is privately on his side. If Mme d'Untel were ever to talk to peasant farmers, she'd discover a wide identity of view. People look at each other and say darkly, Enfin! Le Pen says out loud what we all think deep down, but ... After all, you remember the Occupation ...' And here is the nub.

Can any nation that has not been occu- pied by an enemy after a crushing defeat understand the shame, the guilt, the humil- iation felt by the French as a result of the Occupation? Shame, because so easy a defeat crippled French pride. Guilt, because practically the whole nation accepted that defeat and, either by active collaboration or passive resignation, came to terms with the occupant. Humiliation, because they became servants in their own house. After 50 years the wound is open. Yearly, knives are twisted in it — and by French hands. Terrible films, chilling books illuminate the disgraceful past. Yearly, some figure of that past, Touvier or Papon, is wrenched from obscurity and accused anew. Only one class of person escapes criticism — the former Resistant. And was it not the Left that resisted while the Right collaborated? And is not Monsieur Le Pen on the far Right?

Is he not supported by those who are known to have been Petainists — such as, I'm afraid to say, the d'Untels, but nobody mentions that nowadays. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Decourtray, leading a personal campaign against Le Pen's influence within the church, has asked historians to turn over Lyon's wartime church archives, and uncover col- laborators with the Vichy government's anti-Semitism. Monsieur Le Pen is caught in a web of history. Nothing he can do or say will convince anyone, even his support- ers, that somehow, in some way, however vaguely, he is not connected to the hideous practices of the Nazi party, nor that, had he been active under the Occupation, he would not have sided with the occupant. So for the vast majority of Frenchmen, includ- ing those whose own past is not above sus- picion, Monsieur Le Pen sups with the Devil, using a very short spoon.

Yet Monsieur Le Pen is not really a dan- ger, not even a Nazi. He's a tactless, turbu- lent jolly-sailor type of Breton at the head of a small party, openly supported by no one of distinction. His lieutenants are non- entities. Le Pen himself is more than a Poujade, less than a national politician of stature. His party is a party of protest. His general policy, if any — foreign, fiscal, edu- cational — is lost in the noise and shouting about immigration. Immigration is his sin- gle ace, especially in Southern France with an enormous immigrant population, and Algeria just over the horizon. Immigration is also the one concern which affects the core of French life — housing, education and, most especially, employment. But nei- ther Left nor conventional Right will dis- miss it in these terms. Only Monsieur Le Pen has dived into these deep waters.

With the French Left in disarray, there should be a clear run for the conventional Right to sweep home in next year's general election. To do so it would only have to make an alliance with Monsieur Le Pen: if Mitterrand allies himself with the former Stalinist Marchais, why not Chirac with Le Pen? Ordinary electors would see this as common sense but, haunted by the Occu- pation, the Right rejects this, and certain power, out of hand.