France’s right-wing was plunged into disarray Wednesday as National Front leader Marine Le Pen openly split with her father and party founder after gas chamber comments she described as “political suicide”.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the outspoken 86-year-old founder of the FN party, has dominated headlines in recent days, repeating his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail of history” and defending war-time French leader Petain, who collaborated with Hitler’s regime.
In an interview with the far-Right review Rivarol, Mr Le Pen stood by his gas chamber remarks, saying: “I am not the type of man who changes his mind or crawls.”
Then, when asked to comment on the presence of Pétain supporters within the party, he replied: “I have never considered Marshal Pétain a traitor. They were very severe with him after the Liberation. I never considered as bad French people or pariahs those who still hold the Marshal in esteem.”
He then attacked Mr Valls, France’s Spanish-born prime minister, who became a French national aged 20, saying: “Valls has been French for 30 years. I’ve been French for a thousand years. What are Valls’s real ties to France? Has this immigrant changed dramatically?”
His latest sorties appear to have been the last straw for daughter Marine, who has been trying to clean up the party’s anti-Semitic and racist image since she took over in 2011, a move that has seen it soar in opinion polls as it attracts more mainstream voters.
And some analysts say that while splitting from her father will be painful, it could end up making the FN more electable.
Jean-Marie Le Pen is veering between “political suicide” and “a scorched earth strategy”, said Marine, 46.
“His status of honorary president does not allow him to take the National Front hostage, to make such crass provocations that appear aimed at harming me but which unfortunately hit the entire movement, its officials, candidates, members and voters very hard,” she added.
Political scientist and FN specialist Virginie Martin told AFP that Marine’s latest move could benefit the party’s standing in the polls.
Jean-Marie Le Pen is “a historic figure who always amuses the crowd and… appeals to the historic, hard-line wing of the FN,” she noted.
“But at the same time, they’re never going to lose that part of the electorate. What’s the risk of cutting off Le Pen? You might lose one or two percent but you might gain five or six.”
“Think of the section of the (centre-right) opposition UMP that are disenchanted by traditional political parties… for them, the barrier presented by Le Pen has disappeared.”