Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National (FN) achieved its best results ever in French local elections in late March. Recent polls indicate they may also top the European elections in May.

The FN, running on an anti-immigrant platform, finished with 1400 local councillors (up from 60) and won control of 13 municipalities across France (up from zero). The allied Southern League won another three municipalities. This represents a massive increase for the far right from their previous best showing in 1995.

Their success is a product of disillusionment with Socialist Party (PS) President Francois Hollande, in the context of continuing economic crisis and austerity. These are the same factors behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece. The FN appealed to French nationalism and blamed immigrants, especially Muslims, for France’s declining living standards.

Hollande has maintained most of previous conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and unemployment is now at 11 per cent up from 9.5 per cent when he came to power. The PS’s approval rating is now 19 per cent. Hollande’s reign has been defined by broken promises and concessions to big business. He has presided over tax cuts for the wealthy while raising France’s equivalent of the GST.

Hollande announced this year that employers in France would no longer have to pay social security contributions for their staff, reducing the cost of hiring workers in the hope they would boost employment. Trade unions criticised this as a gift to businesses with nothing concrete demanded in return. “A 30 billion gift to big business is something monstrous in a period of austerity we live in,” pointed out Left Party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Disenchantment also expressed itself in a record low voter turnout, with 38 per cent abstaining.

The left vote fractured with the French Communist Party splitting from the Left Party in most areas to urge a vote for the PS. But on 12 April tens of thousands of people marched in Paris against austerity and the Hollande government. The New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), the Left Party and trade unions marched for equality and sharing of wealth. “This is the first demonstration of the left-wing opposition against the government,” said Olivier Besancenot, spokesman of the NPA. With disillusionment with mainstream politics growing, a stronger left alternative is more necessary than ever.

By Matt Meagher

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