Surely after Brexit and Trump, President Marine Le Pen and “Frexit” will follow. That’s been the prevailing presumption of international punditry in recent weeks. And while the narrative arc may seem persuasive, what’s missing is the facts.
Le Pen may make the final round of next year’s presidential election in France, but it is inconceivable that the country’s political class will not round on her to keep her from the presidency, as it did with her father.
Apart from a determination to keep Le Pen out of the Elysée Palace, what unites the French political class is a realisation that never — on any terms — must the French be granted another referendum on the EU.
Le Pen, however, does not need to win the election to have the type of effect on France that the Brexit and Trump votes have had on Britain and America. Le Pen-ism has bubbled up underneath French politics and the National Front leader seems vindicated without being anywhere near office.
This is a tribute not so much to her political skills as to events. When people either credit or blame Le Pen for France’s swing to the right, they forget that it is mass- casualty terrorist attacks and a migration crisis visible on the streets of Paris that have pushed the French state down this road.
Consider what would have happened in the UK if we had experienced the two years France has just lived through.
Imagine if in January 2015 the staff of Private Eye had been slaughtered in their offices by jihadists (hardly likely, given that the most controversial target of their satire is the Duke of York).
Consider the impact if, 18 months later, two British Muslims had slaughtered a priest saying mass in the sanctuary of a church in, say, Salisbury. And if, in between those two events, hundreds of Londoners had been killed and wounded in one night at a rock concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a football match at Wembley and several central London restaurants. And, following those atrocities, if a Muslim immigrant driving a lorry had run down and killed 80 people on the seafront in Brighton.
After such events, even the Labour Party’s leaders might have found it necessary to say a few critical things. And when it became clear that the perpetrators had slipped in and out of the country undetected through illegal migrant routes, even the Liberal Democrats might have chosen to express concerns about Britain’s borders.
Sadly France’s experience is not hypothetical. And it shows.
Last month the country learnt from a new book by two Le Monde journalists — A President Should Not Say that: Secrets of Five Years in Office — that in private François Hollande says France has “a problem with Islam” and there are too many migrants in the country. He also suggests that Marianne, the symbol of France, today might be a “veiled woman”.
In 1985, when Le Figaro carried on its cover this very image, the French cabinet attacked the magazine for racism. Thirty years later this is what the president says. At an event last week the prime minister, Manuel Valls, warned that if Germany and France do not listen to the concerns of the people on immigration and Islam, the whole EU risks falling apart. And these are voices of the French left.
Today sees the start of the two-round primary process to choose the presidential candidate for the Republicans, formerly known as the UMP, the mainstream party of the French right. The candidate slate makes America’s recent choice look enviable.
This contest is la grande régurgitation. Two former prime ministers are in the running, François Fillon and Alain Juppé; the latter’s career makes the Clinton Foundation look like a model of probity. And then there is Nicolas Sarkozy. Again.
When Sarko talks tough, as he is already doing, voters remember how tough he talked in the past, during his time as interior minister and then as president. They also recall how little he achieved.
It is as though the Republicans have deliberately provided their opponents with ammunition to use against them.
Still, the French right, like the French left, is aware it has to compete for the ground that events have shaped. A few weeks ago in Paris I sat down with a Sarkozy aide who had been involved in his last administration and will be again if Sarkozy wins. During a long discussion we talked about Marine Le Pen, immigration, citizenship and Islam.
At one stage the question arose of what differences — if any — now exist between the Republicans and the National Front. “Their economic policies,” I was told — the latter’s are crazily left-wing.
Just that? Apparently so. For the Republicans, the problem with the National Front’s national socialism is the socialism bit.
None of this is surprising. It is a week since France observed the first anniversary of the evening of terror at the Bataclan theatre and other sites across Paris. Less commented upon is the fact that another first anniversary has just passed: the country has been in an official state of emergency for a year. Outside France this seems to have been forgotten about, but nobody inside the country can ignore it.
That state of emergency has been extended again and again since last November. Perhaps it will never end. It is the reason there are so many soldiers at train stations, airports, power stations and other key sites. It is why in identifiably Jewish areas there are as many armed police as there are skullcaps. And it is why if you slip into a church service in Paris on a Sunday morning you will find armed soldiers in combat fatigues outside the doors.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Paris, hundreds of migrants living in tents at the roadside are shunted along each morning by the police. The country is literally kicking its problems down the road.
What should never have been a normal state of affairs has become so. Outside France, everyone is talking about Le Pen. The events she and her party warned about have come to pass and their fears have become mainstream. She does not need to be victorious next year. She has already won.
A victory of a kind for Marine, but a tragedy for Marianne.
Douglas Murray, a British writer, journalist and commentator.