Friday, 6 July 2012
Jean-Marie Le Pen is trying to depict himself as a jovial patriot unjustly portrayed in the French press as an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathiser. He dotes over a photograph of his nine grandchildren, talks of his love of dogs and paints his household as a haven of peace.

But in an interview with The Times, the far-right leader let the mask slip now and then, proclaiming his admiration for skinheads, lauding Enoch Powell and warning that “Pakis” — he uses the English term — are a threat to the British way of life.

He even launches an extraordinary attack on Marine Le Pen, his daughter and successor as National Front leader, whom he calls une petite bourgeoise, which is exactly what her political opponents say of her. The next Le Pen family reunion at their manor in Saint-Cloud, outside Paris, promises to be stormy.

Mr Le Pen, 84, who founded the Front in 1972 and is now its honorary chairman, was speaking at a pivotal time in its history. In the presidential election in the spring, Mrs Le Pen, who took over as the party’s leader last year, polled a record 17.9 per cent, on the back of her attempt to clean up the Front’s image for violent extremism.

The drive gained momentum when Mr Le Pen’s grand-daughter, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, 22, won a seat as an MP in parliamentary elections last month. Miss Maréchal-Le Pen’s radiant smile and youthful face symbolised the message that the new National Front was modern and respectable.

But has it really changed? The question is central to politics in France — where the mainstream right is unsure whether to form an alliance with Mrs Le Pen — but also in the rest of Europe, where the ultra right is on the rise, too.

In comments likely to dismay his daughter, Mr Le Pen – the most successful far right leader in France since the SecondWorld War – insisted that the change was only superficial. Sitting in his office, surrounded by books, statues and paintings – mostly of Joan of Arc – he said the party remained attached to its traditional defence of the nation state against globalisation in general and the “breaking waves” of Muslim immigration in particular.

Europe’s demography was a “mortal handicap” that would leave native Europeans as slaves to Islamic radicals. “Their master will be Islam. If the Islamists are in a majority in France, it will be the sharia,”he said.

He said the French would be sunk by immigrants and that Britain was hardly any better off. “The British have treated the problem of immigration with a lot of lightness and they will have a lot of worries. That is what Enoch Powell denounced. He was clearsighted,”he said, describing as a prophecy the 1968 speech in which Powell said “the River Tiber foaming with much blood” was an omen of the results of immigration.

Mr Le Pen said the North African immigrant community in France was responsible for most of the country’s crime, and added: “Your ‘Pakis’ may be even more troublesome.”This sort of comment has appalled mainstream voters over the years and earned him a reputation for racism, which his daughter is now trying to erase in her effort to woo the middleclasses.

But Mr Le Pen was having none of it, claiming that his views have been distorted by political enemies bent on drawing France into the “melting pot” of globalisation.
“The image of me as the devil was methodically and tenaciously imposed in the French political world. My reputation as an anti-Semite was artificially created,” he said. “But it is not Jean-Marie Le Pen who is the devil in their eyes, it is the defender of the nation.”How, then, did he explainhis daughter’s success in softening the party’s devilish aura? “It’s because she’s a woman,” he said, before offering a second explanation.

“I am a man of the people. I am from a family of peasants and sailors. I was a parachute regiment officer. . . I have had a very virile life, to say the least. My daughter, whatever she may say, is a little bourgeois girl.”

He said the Parisian elite considered him to be “boorish” and “worrying”, but accepted his daughter because of her well-heeled upbringing.

His analysis is correct to the extent that Mrs Le Pen, 43, spent most of her childhood in the €4 million manor inherited by her father in 1976, whereas he was the son of a Breton sailor.

But as the new National Front leader seeks to show that she is in touch with the concerns of ordinary French families, it is about the last thing she wants her father to underline.

Nor is Mrs Le Pen likely to be pleased at his distinctly ambiguous justification of her tactics. “Marine’s strategy is to give our adversaries as small a target as possible to attack. For instance, all those courageous and dynamic activists who get noticed because they have shaven heads have been pushed aside.”
Source: Times (£)

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