Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 4 May 2017

Her supporters are passionate and committed, and faithful to France, but they don’t stand a bloody chance

Low life | 4 May 2017
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‘Emmanuel Macron est le plus grand con du monde,’ said the elderly gent taking the vacant seat on my right at the Marine Le Pen rally last week. He had slicked-back white hair, a little hog’s-bristle moustache and broken-down white trainers. Plus grand means ‘biggest’, du monde means ‘in the world’, and con means, well, have a guess. A teenage girl and her pal squeezed past to occupy the spare pair of seats on my left. They flung themselves joyfully into the chanting and singing before they’d even

sat down.

The Palais Nikaia, a concert venue next to Nice airport, holds 8,000 people. Ten minutes before Marine Le Pen was due on stage, the packed auditorium was a noisy kaleidoscope of waving French tricolours, flashing LED tricolour lapel badges and ‘Choisir la France’ placards. ‘Ma-rine Prés-i-dent!’ we chanted. And, ‘On est chez nous!’ — ‘We are at home!’ If I had to characterise the faces, I would say they were unmoisturised faces; outside faces; Poundland faces; dog-and-ferret-show faces; prematurely aged, car-boot-sale faces. I’m generally not good on distinguishing the French social classes in everyday life. These, though, without a doubt, were the faces of the French working class. The fussy hairdos and discreet designer clothes of the French journalists, standing in the shadows looking on with genial condescension, belonged to a different category of human being altogether.

It was noisy but not raucous, and it certainly wasn’t angry. If I had to characterise the atmosphere, I would say it was a cheerful family-matinee pantomime atmosphere. Stewards in blazers and ties were orientally polite. The morbid redundancies of Ravel’s Boléro subliminally and incrementally lifted the emotional temperature by a few degrees. In a slide show on the three big screens we saw Marine riding a white charger; Marine cradling a cat; Marine sexy and coy hugging herself in a doorway; Marine the cross-legged yogi contemplating still water; Marine cuddling a small, elderly, ecstatic black woman; Marine sombre and stooping to lay a commemorative wreath; Marine hitting it off famously with a tot in a classroom. ‘Can she win?’ I asked the teenage girls during a lull in the chanting. ‘Of course she can!’ they said and laughed. Then we joined in a spontaneous rendering of the ‘Marseillaise’.

Ravel’s Boléro was prematurely ejected and the slide show on the big screens became a film. A farmer told us how he was being shafted, basically. ‘I need Marine,’ he concluded. We cheered. There followed a nurse, a student, a housewife and a policeman. Each said they were being shafted; each concluded: ‘J’ai besoin de Marine.’The copper needing Marine got the biggest cheer. Then Marine magically appeared on the centre-stage podium and said, ‘And I need YOU!’ The crowd’s roar broke into a chant: ‘Ma-rine Prés-i-dent!’ Then we sang the ‘Marseillaise’ again. We, in our more obscure corner of the hall, sang respectfully rather than lustily. As we sang, the chap with the hog’s-bristle moustache, solemn with ecstasy, conducted with a tiny imaginary baton.

Marine Le Pen spoke to us for about an hour. She spoke plainly, simply and calmly. Our pantomime villain was Macron. We heartily booed every mention of his name. In the booing you could hear the higher-pitched boos of the children.‘What is he, this Macron?’ she asked us, gently bracing herself against her podium, her pleasant face verging on a smile. How we booed! She told us what she thought. ‘He is a pyromaniac passing himself off as a fireman,’ she said. ‘He is our perfect antithesis, him and his diluting programme of globalism and immigration. I invite you to choose France against this stooge of the capitalist system.’ We were sitting at this point, and the old man next to me was beside himself with excitement, bouncing his spindle-shanks on the soles of his too-big trainers. ‘Macron! C’est le finance! C’est tous!’ he chuckled in an aside to me. I gave him a contemptuous pout plus shrug intended to convey the phrase, ‘What else?’

We were up and down like yo-yos, he and I, applauding her contempt for the handsome young capitalist stooge, and her denunciations of globalism, mass immigration and ‘cette marchandisation du monde’.Yes, there were some good things about globalism, she confessed. She was quite partial to an avocado. But, ‘We are a culture, a civilisation. We are not a station waiting-room about to be submerged by a massive wave of immigration. I will reinstate France’s borders immediately.’

I don’t wish to sound patronising, but it was all rather poignant. Deserted by the left, derided wholesale by the media as fascists, this poor ‘uneducated’ remnant, faithful yet to the idea of the grandeur and glory of France, doesn’t stand a bloody chance.