Jeremy Clarke 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

‘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.

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