Gavin Mortimer

The National Front loses its golden girl

The National Front loses its golden girl
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The golden girl of the National Front has gone and with her go the grassroot hopes for an alternative to Marine Le Pen. The decision of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen to withdraw from political life wasn't entirely unexpected, rumours first emerged earlier in the year, but it is nonetheless a heavy blow for the party rank and file just days after their disappointing presidential election result.

And it was a disappointment, no matter how Marine Le Pen tries to dress up her 34 per cent share of the vote in Sunday's second round against Emmanuel Macron. The truth is that she was trounced by a political novice with a manifesto that is worryingly vague in certain key areas. Many of the far right faithful therefore saw Maréchal-Le Pen as the pretender to the National Front throne but the 27-year-old has, in the words of Le Figaro, 'thrown in the sponge'.

In a two page letter published in Wednesday's edition of Le Dauphine, the 27 year-old Maréchal-Le Pen, one of only two National Front MPs, explained her reasons for quitting politics, saying they were 'personal and political'. Recently divorced, Maréchal-Le Pen said her political life had entailed lengthy separations from her young daughter and it 'is essential that I devote more time to her'.

She also talked of a possible future career in business but allowed her supporters the glimmer of hope she might one day be back. 'I am not giving up the political fight forever', she said, the youngest of the 577 MPs in the National Assembly when she was elected for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in 2012. 'I cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of my compatriots'.

According to the French tabloid, Le Parisien, Maréchal-Le Pen informed her aunt, Marine, on Tuesday afternoon who responded by saying she 'respects her choice...I know what politics demands and the sacrifices it requires'.

Maréchal-Le Pen's grandfather, Jean-Marie, the man who founded the National Front in 1972 was less compassionate, calling the decision 'a desertion', and foreseeing grave consequences for the party. 'Marion represents the future for a lot of National Front electors', said Jean-Marie, who in recent years has been closer to his granddaughter than his daughter. 'I hope she rethinks her decision...she can still reconsider. If in her eyes my opinion carries any weight, I say to her: 'No, don't quit the frontline''.

But while Jean-Marie is closer ideologically to Maréchal-Le Pen than his daughter, it is Marine who shares the old man's character. Aggressive, argumentative and resilient, the pair are also similar in physique and mannerisms, which is why, despite Marine's best attempts, she can never slip out of her father's shadow.

Maréchal-Le Pen is different, and while she may have the convictions of her grandfather she hasn't his carapace. She famously burst into tears during one of her early interviews and she lacks his, and his daughter's, pugnacity and ruthlessness. There may also be, at the back of her mind, a fear about the risk that comes with being a political Le Pen. In 1976, a bomb ripped through Jean-Marie's Paris apartment and an eight year-old Marine was fortunate to escape with her life.

But Maréchal-Le Pen's departure will also be seen by some within the National Front hierarchy as a victory for the party's reformers, people like the vice-president Florian Philippot, who persuaded Marine Le Pen to put leaving the EU at the heart of her presidential campaign. Maréchal-Le Pen believed from the outset this strategy was wrong. She wanted to campaign more along traditional left vs. right lines and she described Philippot's philosophy as 'gaucho-lepénisme'. As a result, her relationship with Philippot - and to a lesser extent, her aunt - deteriorated as electioneering wore on.

The departure of Maréchal-Le Pen will be relief, therefore, to social liberals like Philippot, as it will too the left, who regard the younger Le Pen as more charismatic and appealing than her bull-in-a-china-shop aunt. The left-wing Liberation believes the National Front has 'lost one of the most popular figures in its movement', a woman who in the eyes of many of the party faithful was regarded as a modern 'Joan of Arc'.

There is, of course, always the chance that Maréchal-Le Pen could come back in a year or two, perhaps at the head of her own movement. After all, if the telegenic Emmanuel Macron can become president 13 months after forming En Marche! then why not her? But Le Figaro thinks not. 'Politics isn't the be-all and end-all for her', says the paper. 'The young woman hasn't the passion for power'.