Is it Over for France? Portrait of a Nation on Fire

Andrea Bidnic

It’s difficult to put into words the degree of urgency of the situation. Imagine a world where Nigel Farage emerges victorious from the general election as he walks into Downing Street with that smug look on his face. Outlandish as this may sound, this worst-case scenario is about to become a reality just across the English Channel.

In the first round of the French elections last Sunday (30 June), the far-right National Rally (RN) topped the polls with 33.2% of the vote, followed by the leftwing coalition New Popular Front (NFP) with 28%, and the incumbent Ensemble, led by President Emmanuel Macron, trailing at a mere 20%.

On this appalling trajectory, the next occupant of Matignon (the French Downing Street equivalent) will be a shallow 28-year-old named Jordan Bardella, who proudly champions his party’s racist, nationalist, antifeminist, homophobic, pro-Putin and climate denial beliefs. Reactionary ideals are set to make their grand return to mainstream French politics, eighty years after the Vichy regime. France is on the brink of returning to far-right rule. As I turn 20 this Sunday when the runoff vote takes place, let’s just say I’ve had better birthday presents.

Macron’s senseless decision to call a snap election following the far-right sweep at the recent EU elections was a high-stakes gamble that caused a political earthquake. The French left, best known for fighting amongst themselves, did the unthinkable and put egos aside by uniting under the banner of the NFP. Meanwhile, Macron’s seven years of polarising politics have finally come back to bite his party in the arse, with the Ensemble group coming third in a historic blow for the President.

Ahead of the run-off vote, many candidates have chosen to stand down tactically to strengthen the republican ‘dam’ – when republican parties across the political spectrum join forces to vote against the far-right. This may sound like an easy choice but you have to vote for the former PM Elisabeth Borne, who was vociferously opposed by many over the controversial retirement age reforms. This is difficult and takes courage, but is more than necessary.

Of the 311 constituencies where three parties proceeded to the second round, 218 have stood down so far, with around 120 from the NFP and 80 from Ensemble, with several big-name Macronists still refusing to withdraw, labelling both the RN and NFP as extremists, specifically members of La France Insoumise, one of the three main parties of the coalition. History will not be kind to them.

Never had I felt such extreme political tension. The streets of Paris have become an open-sky debate. Pedestrians are shouting on the phone to parents who are voting a different way. Cafe-goers sat heatedly discussing the first round results while nervously crushing their cigarettes in the ashtray. Every day, millions are glued to the radios and TV channels broadcasting successive candidates’ interviews. Everyone concerned with the upkeep of republican values is anxious. As the clock keeps ticking, I scribble these words in anguish.

The mood is ambivalent. Feelings of impending doom and indomitable hope have come together as one. One NFP candidate admitted that they have scaled back their ambition from winning to simply stopping a far-right majority. At a recent anti-RN rally in Paris, one speaker told the crowd of 30,000 ‘Every time we think we’ve hit rock bottom, we always dig deeper.’ But as calls for unity from the Left to some right-wingers multiply, there remains a glimmer of hope in this doomsday scenario: hope for unity on Sunday’s vote, but also hope that this unity would hold when we will be forced to defend every inch of our freedom under a new era of far-right government. When another speaker, visibly moved, began listing the litany of attacks on democracy RN sought to target once in office, the crowd reacted as one to each mention, tirelessly repeating ‘We will be there!’

Britain may only have five far-right MPs today, but Reform’s 14% vote share at the general election just gone should ring some alarm bells. Let France be a lesson that fascism could come knocking if you’re not careful.