Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller

The provocative writer who could be the next French president

Montpellier

The French ‘grand’ journalist Éric Zemmour is among the most watched, provocative and frequently prosecuted writers in the country. He is now contemplating a piratical presidential challenge that could blow open next year’s presidential election.

A poll last month conducted for the news magazine Valeurs Actuelles says that Zemmour could win 13 per cent of the votes in the first round of the French presidential election. That’s more impressive than it seems. In the cavalry charge of a first round, when a dozen or more candidates are possible, 13 per cent is more than enough to unsettle not just the re-election campaign of President Emmanuel Macron. It could simultaneously provoke a civil war on the French right, mark an end to the toxic dynasty of Marine Le Pen, and open a path for the radical left.

Zemmour might ultimately find it difficult to win the keys to the presidential Airbus. But his presence in the race is deeply destabilising, even if it isn’t yet confirmed. Not least because the French presidential electoral system has repeatedly shown itself capable of defying early expectations and producing unexpected outcomes and surprising presidents.

Zemmour is not a traditional politician, but these are not conventional times. A relentless chronicler of national decline, he is best known outside France for his authorship of Le Suicide français (2014), his bitter hurlement against the malign influence of the soixante-huitards. He accuses the once-trendy French left of the 1960s of betraying France, and causing four decades of economic stagnation and social decline.

Condemned by more conventional and conformist colleagues as a racist and fascist, Zemmour has been convicted three times under French hate-speech laws. He wears these convictions as a badge of honour. Professional rivals have attempted to ‘cancel’ him by pressuring advertisers to boycott his TV shows. They will doubtless step up their efforts should he decide to run.

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